Kuniyoshi, Comparisons for the Chapters of the Genji 37 - The Flute

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Japanese and Chinese Comparisons for the Chapters of Genji, Chapter 37: The Flute (Ushiwaka maru Playing His Flute on Gojo Bridge) 1855. Oban.

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We are showing two prints from Kuniyoshi’s Japanese and Chinese Comparisons for the Chapters of Genji. This intriguing print series pairs chapters from the novel The Tale of the Genji, with scenes from history and legend. The Tales of Genji (Genji monogatari) is considered the greatest novel in classical Japanese literature, and arguably, the world’s first novel.  It was written in the first decade of the eleventh century by Lady Murasaki, and relates the womanizing exploits of Prince Genji.  Each of the fifty-four chapters of the novel is named and is associated with a crest called a Genji-mon.  In this series of prints, the crests, the chapters of the books and the heroic exploits are sometimes wrong, misplaced or obscure, making contemporary interpretation of the prints difficult. The individual titles are written in the Geni-mon cartouche.

The Genji chapter name here is The Flute (Yokobue). The print shows the great Japanese hero Yoshitsune (Ushiwaka Maru) playing his flute on Gojo Bridge. The scene depicted is the meeting between Yoshitsune and the folk hero 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. Yoshitsune is always depicted at this stage of his life as slight and effeminate.

This is a very fine Kuniyoshi, exquisitely coloured and printed. The copy is in fine condition except for some slight wormage to the top margin. Colour and impression are excellent.

Published by Ise Yoshi.

35cm x 25cm.