Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets 5b - Yozei-in

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #5b: Yozei-in, 1847. Oban.

Kuniyoshi’s unparalleled design skills are outstanding in his contribution to the series of One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets, published in 1847. Three artists were involved in this lavish production - Kuniyoshi, Kunisada and Hiroshige - the three most prominent woodblock print artists of their day.

Sheet number 5 illustrates an episode from the famous saga of the revenge of the Soga Brothers. More information on this, one of the most famous of Japanese stories and kabuki plays, can be found in the notes for the Hiroshige series of prints of the Revenge of the Soga Brothers. Kuniyoshi is especially good at puns, allusions and metaphors. In this print of a poem by Saramaru Dayu, the young Soga, Juro Sukenari, (called Hakoomaru in his youth) is shown clasping an elaborate robe, a sword and a letter. There are no clues to the meaning of the portrait and the relationship to the poem itself is incidental. The picture relates to a scene after the assassination of his father when he is sent to a mountain monastary for instruction. His mother has written to him, (the long letter) and enclosed a gift (the robe). The robe is decorated with Autumn flowers, depicting the time of the year that the scene is set, his clothes are decorated with stag horns and maple leaves, alluding to the autumnal hunt on which his father was ambushed and killed. He grasps a sword - an unsuspecting gift from his father’s assassin, made on a visit to the monastery and prefiguring his own death at Juro’s hands in years to come. The poem reads:

When I hear the voice
of the stag crying for his mate
stepping through the fallen leaves
deep in the mountain -
    then is the time
that autumn is saddest

Kuniyoshi is clearly relating the sorrow of the stag calling for its mate in the autumn, with the grief of the boy for his father, fallen on a hunting expedition.

This is a very nice print indeed. The colour and impression are very fine. It is trimmed to the image as is often the case with this series, otherwise no damage issues.