Hiroshige, Illustrations of Loyalty and Vengeance - Miracle at Hakone

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) lllustrations of Loyalty and Vengeance (Chuko adauchi zue): Miracle at Hakone, 1844. Oban.

So many Japanese stories and myths overlap or reproduce each other it is easy to get confused and this fine print by Hiroshige is a case in point. At first glance this touching image of a determined woman leading a man in a crude wooden trolley seems to be recounting the same story as the famous tale of Princess Terute; in fact this is a quite different legend although the image of the strong, loyal woman sacrificing herself for the sake of her partner and for honour is similar.

This series is unusual in Hiroshige’s large output of mainly landscape prints. He was a skilled and sensitive artist of the human condition, which is well illustrated in this series, Illustrations of Loyalty and Vengeance. The scene depicted was adapted first to the puppet (bunraku) stage and then to the kabuki theatre. It tells the story of Hatsuhana and her husband Katsugoro. Katsugoro’s brother has been killed by the arch-villain Sato Gosuke. They decide to seek vengeance but Katsugoro falls sick on the road and loses the use of his legs. Hatsuhana pulls him the remainder of the way in the homemade cart. They confront Gosuke who has also taken Hatsuhana’s mother as hostage. Unable to fight, Katsugoro is ridiculed by the evil Gosuke. Katsugoro sees his wife praying for a miracle at waterfall shrine nearby but the following morning discovers that she has been beheaded by Gosuke (along with her mother) for resisting his advances. Katsugoro, miraculously restored to health, realises it was his wife’s ghost he saw praying at he waterfall, constant even in death.

Like so many late Edo and Meiji prints, this beautiful piece shows enlightened views towards women, depicting heroines as strong, virtuous and loyal. It is a fine print, the nocturnal snowy landscape shows Hiroshige at his understated best, and the print is delightfully rich in imagery that relates the story; the waterfall, the cart, the way-sign that marks the shrine and the pathetically humbled figure of Katsugoro.

A fine impression with striking colours - other editions have the scene printed in daylight. The print is full size with margins which are slightly soiled. Overall the print is in very good condition.

Published by Wakasaya Yoichi.

37cm x 25cm.