Hiroshige, The Revenge of the Soga Brothers 28 - Shosho

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) The Story of the Revenge of the Soga Brothers (Soga Monogatari Zuye) Number 28: Shosho, 1847. Oban.

Paintings and prints of historical subjects are rare in Hiroshige's oeuvre, but from 1846 to 1847 he designed a series of woodblock prints entitled Soga monogatari zue. We have two prints from this series of 1848 in the show. It’s a mysterious and haunting series of prints of great subtlety and brilliance. Although this is a classic tale of male revenge and battling samurai, the traditional telling and this series in particular gives plenty of room to the female participants, hence their inclusion here. There is  a darkness and density to these prints that nicely catches the story of revenge and humiliation; the colours are dense and the figures do not overshadow the compositions.

There is a good summary of the Soga story here. In the twelfth century two rival lords fell out and Lord Kuto killed Lord Ito who left two infant boys, Juro and Goro. Their mother remarried and they took their stepfather’s name Soga. At five, they vowed revenge on their father’s death and by maturity they were committed to carry out the plan. In 1192 on the occasion of a hunting party, they ambushed Kuto, slaying him in his tent. They were set upon by Kuto’s retainers who killed Juro and captured Goro. Despite the justice of their case, Goro was executed on the orders of the Shogun. Hiroshige’s series contains thirty (possibly thirty-six) illustrations of the story and he weaves details from the kabuki plays and other tellings of the events into his prints. The British Museum London says this about the subject:

In the Edo period, in particular, Soga pieces were an indispensable item in the programme of plays at the Kabuki theatres each New Year. In Kabuki versions of the story much attention is given to the love affairs of the brothers - for the women Tora no Gozen and Kewaizaka no Shosho.

In this print Hiroshige pictures Kewaizaka no Shosho mourning the death of her lover Goro. Shosho and Tora go on to kill the two retainers who had humiliated the brothers before their deaths, thus making Shosho a powerful and avenging woman. Goro is pictured in the flock of flying geese seen in the distance, a sentiment that echoes the five year old Goro’s speech in the kabuki version where he likens wild geese to his true family and vows one day to join them. His death is shown by the broken lamp and the weeping child.

It is a really lovely print; the classical composition and brooding colours are exceptional. The series title is written in the upper right cartouche, the story in cursive script within the cloud. Fine impression and colours in good condition overall, untrimmed sheet.

Published by Dansendo

24cm x 36cm.