Kunisada, Benkei and Yoshitsune fighting on Gojo Bridge

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Benkei and Yoshitsune (Ushiwaka) fighting on Gojo Bridge, 1852. Oban diptych.

This exuberant Kunisada diptych shows a favourite theme of ukiyo-e artists, the fight on Gojo Bridge between the young Yoshitsune and the warrior monk Benkei. Yoshitsune’s is a tragic and very famous story in Japan. His father was persecuted by the rival Taira Clan and Yoshitsune was brought up in a monastery. Legend has it that Yoshitsune was taught the secrets of fighting by Tengu (mythical forest creatures) before taking up rebellion against his father’s old enemies. The scene depicted is the meeting between Yoshitsune and the folk hero Oniwakamura (Benkei). Benkei, known as a phenomenally strong man and warrior, has secured Gojo bridge with the intention of relieving 1000 samurai of their swords. Yoshitsune is his 1000th victim. Yoshitsune, though slight, defeats the giant man using Tengu fighting skills. Benkei becomes his loyal protector and between them they lead an armed rebellion against the Taira, establishing Yoshitsune’s brother as the first national Shogun - a position that would last 650 years until the19th century. Yoshitsune was betrayed by his brother and later killed himself and his family at the siege of Koromogawa no tate.

There are conventions in the genre that have to be observed; the distinctive turned caps to the bridge supports for example or the almost absurd number of weapons carried by the bulky monk and the lightness and smallness of Yoshitsune, shown here literally dancing off the bridge with an agility that contrasts with Benkei’s cumbersome bulk.

This is a lovely print, full size with notably fine colours and preservation. A fine impression, some slight worm damage professionally restored. This print makes a fine companion piece to the snow scene also in this exhibition.

36cm x 50cm.