Yoshitoshi, Fudo-Myo Threatening a Novice

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Fudo-Myo Threatening a Novice, 1885. Oban triptych.

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This is one of the great and outstanding works by Yoshitoshi. He presents a supernatural event laden with symbolism and significance and overlaid with an astonishing sense of the dramatic and the powerful design for which he is now so famous. The influence of the ukiyo-e tradition of theatre prints is evident in the composition of the piece - the placement of each character on its own sheet recalls the habit of selling kabuki triptychs in single or multiple sheets. The shallow space evokes the traditional stage of the kabuki theatre as do the dramatic roles - frozen in time as in the climax of kabuki scenes. Yoshitoshi uses these devices to order his composition for maximum effect - focusing the eye on the terrifying aspect of the statue of the fire god Fudo Myo, now come to life, leaning over the child-like figure of Yuten Shonin, the novitiate priest.

One interpretation of this print (not helped by the title), is that the young priest is being assaulted by the monstrous demon, but this is incorrect. The piece is intimately tied up with Buddhist legend and some historical fact. Yuten Shonin (1637 - 1718) is an historical character. He studied at the temple in Zojoji, (where the scene is set) and became influential with the fifth Tokugawa Shogun and his mother.  He eventually became Abbot at the temple and an important Buddhist scholar. Fudo-Myo is one of the five “Kings of Wisdom" in Buddhist lore and is often attended by the goddess of mercy, Kannon - pictured here in the right hand sheet. The legend has it that the statue appears to Shonin as the living God, Shonin prostates himself and consumes the sword of wisdom, thereby gaining supernatural wisdom and enlightenment. This act of consummation is the subject of the print. Yoshitoshi has pictured Fudo-Myo and Kannon before in a stunning vertical diptych which illustrates the mercy of the Gods to a penitent sinner.

This superb print is in very fine condition. It is an early impression of the first edition with woodgrain visible in the background and superb, hand applied bokashi shading to the shadows.

Signed Yoshitoshi. Published Akiyama Buemon. Block carver Horiko Enkatsu.

The print is illustrated widely, as in van den Ing, Robert Schaap, Beauty and Violence: Japanese Prints by Yoshitoshi, 1992, plate 48.

70cm x 35cm.