Kunisada, Portrait of Benkei

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Portrait of Benkei, 1852. Oban.

An unusual and very striking portrait of the warrior monk Benkei, retainer and companion of the great samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune. We are showing several Benkei subjects in this show - a testament to his popularity as a character and enduring symbol of loyalty, courage and strength. Born in 1155 and reputedly of enormous strength and vitality, Benkei was raised by monks who were both religious and military. As a young man he positioned himself at one end of Gojo Bridge and disarmed travellers of their swords. On reaching his 999th sword he fought with a young nobleman, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who won the battle of the bridge and thereafter Benkei served as his principal retainer. They fought in the Gempei Wars between the Taira clan and their own Minamoto clan. The conflict saw the destruction of the Taira clan and the establishment of a nationwide shogunate and the suppression of the power of the Emperor for 650 years until the Meiji Restoration in the 1860’s.

In this portrait Benkei is dressed, as he is often depicted, in the clothes of a Buddhist monk. Kunisada shows him almost bursting from the confines of the frame. He is holding a  scroll and rosary in his hands as if they were weapons, his fists clenched and shoulders hunched. The pose and symmetry of the subject make this a rare and outstanding print of a popular subject.

Full size with margins except for the bottom edge. There are album binding holes to the left, otherwise fine impression and colour.