Kuniyoshi, Chushingura, Act 11

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Treasury of the Loyal Retainers, Night Attack, 1851. Oban triptych.

This is an important Kuniyoshi triptych. We see here the culmination of the attack of the 47 Ronin. A confusing issue for scholars is that censorship restrictions meant that frequently the historical characters were given the names of the theatrical players in the kabuki version of the story, as is the case with this print. This is  perhaps the most famous drama of kabuki theatre and the real historical characters are still revered today at their shrine and in films, books, plays and cartoons. The true story tells the suicide of Enya Hangan who in 1701 was forced to draw his sword in the Shogun’s palace by the goading  of the courtier Moronao. Hangan is obliged to commit suicide for the offence and his retainers become Ronin, leaderless samurai. They vow revenge and the play revolves around their plotting and preparation, culminating in the storming of Moronao’s house and his eventual assassination.

Kuniyoshi illustrates act 11 (though there is no suggestion of staging here) where the cowering Moronao is cornered by the Ronin and offered a dagger to commit suicide.  When he refuses, the samurai decapitate him in the snow. This fine print recalls the brilliant contrasts and design of another famous snow scene in art, Brueghel's Hunters in the Snow from 1565.

A fine woodblock print, three oban sheets, fine impression, good colour, some edge damage and minor trimming. Surface soiling in places. On the whole little serious damage.

Another copy of this print is in the Arthur R Miller Collection at The British Museum London.

This print was featured at the recent Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Royal Academy London 2009 and is illustrated on p. 120 of Clark, Kuniyoshi, Royal Academy Publication 2009.

Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi, censor seals Kinugasa and Murata.