Kuniyoshi, 100 Poets from the Literary Heroes of Our Country - Ushiwaka Maru (Yoshitsune)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Hundred Poets from the Literary Heroes of Our Country: Ushiwaka Maru (Yoshitsune) 1843. Chuban.

Ushiwaka Maru is the juvenile name of the great hero Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159 - 1189) from the literary legend, Heike Monogatari. Yoshitsune has parallels with the English Folk Hero Robin Hood; and his 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 he was then taught the secrets of fighting by Tengu (mythical forest creatures) before taking up rebellion against his father’s old enemies. Yoshitsune is usually pictured fighting the warrior monk Benkei at Gojo Bridge. Benkei, known as a phenomenally strong man and warrior, has secured the 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.

Kuniyoshi shows the youthful Yoshitsune seated, reading the famous scroll Sanryaku-no-maki (Principles of Heaven, Earth and Man - a guide to the fighting skills and strategy of Ninjutsu). The scene is set in the house of Kiichi Hogen, a philosopher and master swordsman who it is said, taught Yoshitsune his fighting skills. Kuniyoshi shows the young warrior with a boy’s hairstyle, inexplicably holding a wad of tissues between his teeth (usually a symbol of a sexual encounter). A lamp burns to his left. A poem by Ushiwaka Maru is inscribed in the upper half. The series of prints represents historical figures who are known to have written poetry, which is reproduced on each design in the square cartouche. Yoshitsune’s personal seal is reproduced in red on the left side of the print.

This is a fine print from a rare series, condition, impression and colour here are all very fine. A copy of the print is in the MFA Boston.

Published by Murata-ya Tetsu

25cm x 18cm