Kuniyoshi, Comparison of the High Renown of the Loyal Retainers and Faithful Samurai - Shikamatsu Kanroku Holding a Lantern

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Comparison of the High Renown of the Loyal Retainers and Faithful Samurai: Shikamatsu Kanroku Holding a Lantern Discovers the Maid Sumiji, 1848. Oban.

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Kuniyoshi rather made the now very famous history of the 47 Ronin his own with the famous series Seishu gishi den, (The Faithful Samurai) in 1847. Perhaps the most popular and best known of Kuniyoshi's work, this series celebrates the heroes of one of Japan's most enduring historical events: the 47 Ronin. In 1702 Lord Asano of Ako was provoked by Kira Kozukensuke into drawing his sword in the shogun's palace, for which he was forced to take his own life. Forty-seven of his retainers became Ronin - samurai without masters. They vowed revenge on their leader and attacked Kira's palace the following year, decapitating him and carrying his head to lay on Asano's grave. They in turn took their own lives.

This series, released a year later in 1848 and with a different publisher, consists of twenty-five known prints. It differs from its famous forerunner in significant ways. In the first series, each of the 47 are shown individually and engaged in dispute, commonly with the household objects associated with palace life - a brazier, a curtain, a mirror, a screen or table etc. In the second series, the ronin are shown with other characters from the story; combat scenes with palace retainers and in this case with the housemaid Sumiji.

Kuniyoshi pictures Kanroku holding aloft a lantern to reveal the maid, semi-dressed and leaning backwards in fear. The depiction of the maid is fascinating; Kuniyoshi has drawn her in the western style, although the whole series and its predecessor show a great deal of western influence in the placement of the figure on the page and in the realistic drawing of posture and detail. Kuniyoshi made explicit his debt to western style in an inscription on another series from 1848 (24 Paragons of Filial Piety) stating 'Dutch Painting full of flesh colour' on the introduction. Kuniyoshi was a well known collector of folios of Dutch Engravings of old masters. The drawing of the maid in this print is almost certainly based on a Michelangelo copy - possibly The Doni Madonna tondo of 1503.

The title cartouche is in the shape of a hand guard from a Japanese sword called a tsuba. They were exceptionally decorated and demountable, and nowadays collectible items in their own right.

This is a very fine print from a rare series. The colour and impression are really outstanding, the drawing of the maid being especially notable. The condition is fine overall, there is some slight water staining to bottom left corner. Full size.

Published by Kobayashi Taijiro.

37cm x 24.5 cm.