Kunisada, Fight on Gojo Bridge

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Fight on Gojo Bridge, 1852. Oban diptych.

This is a very fine theatrical print of two kabuki actors playing the roles of Yoshitsune and Benkei, fighting at Gojo bridge. Saito no Musishibo Benkei was a warrior monk, who lived in 12th century Japan. He was brought up by monks and was said in his youth to be enormously strong. At seventeen he became a yamabushi (a mountain monk) and is often shown wearing a distinctive black cap.

Benkei positioned himself at Gojo Bridge, disarming 999 travellers of their swords. The thousandth was Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a youth trained in fighting by mythical tengu. Yoshitsune defeated Benkei and hence Benkei became his lifelong servant. This print shows the fight between the two of them on the Gojo Bridge. Yoshitsune went on to lead the Minamoto clan in their successful war against the Taira with Benkei at his side.

Yoshitsune, betrayed by his brother, died in the siege of Koromogawa no tate, Benkei defending the bridge to the last and dying upright, pierced with arrows, an event referred to as “the standing death of Benkei”. An image echoed in the death of Boromir in the first of the Lord of the Rings movies.

Benkei and Yoshitsune were a popular subject for ukiyo-e artists and there are numerous prints depicting their deeds. This has a fine composition, full size with the heavily tattooed Yoshitsune on the left.  Tattooed subjects were particularly fascinating to ukiyo-e artists and remain so to collectors today.

A fine impression with extensive mica to the background, embossing to the faces and vibrant colour. Two sheets on Japanese album backing, very fine condition.