Kunikazu, Four Sheet Print - The Revenge of the Soga Brothers

Utagawa Kunikazu (active 1849 - 1867) The Revenge of the Soga Brothers, Early 1850’s. Deluxe Chuban Tetraptych.

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Kunikazu was a popular and successful artist who is probably best known for the few series of landscape prints produced in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Like the previous piece, this excellent four sheet chuban takes the drama of the Soga Brother’s revenge as its subject. Compositionally quite different, the print hovers between individual portraits on separate sheets and a coherent composition. Only the spreading cherry blossom across the top of the composition serves to unite the sheets, but as with the Yoshitaki, the characters are connected by the coherence of gesture and gaze. Reading right to left we see the arrival of one of the Soga's - identifiable by the characteristic Soga mon on his coat. His gaze is stern but confident and he directs us to the other three characters who start at his appearance.

The story was a popular subject for kabuki audiences: in 1175 Kudo saemon Suketsune had his cousin Sukemichi assassinated in order to gain an inheritance. Eighteen years later, in 1193, Sukemichi’s two sons Juro Sukenari and Goro Tokimune revenged themselves by killing Suketsune in the course of a hunting party on Mount Fuji. Juro was killed in the fight but Goro was taken prisoner. What follows is the crux of the play’s tragedy for Japanese audiences. Although the shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo sympathised with the brothers' loyalty and was inclined to pardon Goro, he was persuaded by Suketsune’s son to execute him. The conflict between the duty of the sons and the authority of the state remains a vital key to understanding both bushido (the way of the samurai) and the feudal system of the shogunate.

A fine print, rich with deluxe technique and beautiful, patinated metallics. The detail and delicacy of the print is outstanding as is the composition and placement of the figures which shows an extraordinary lightness of touch and deftness in handling. There is a beautiful brevity to this piece which is nicely balanced by the richness of the figures.

A fine deluxe print. Very fine colour, impression and condition, printed on thick paper on four separate sheets. Full size with album folds now flattened.

24cm x 72cm.