Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Modern Set of Edo Provinces in Brocade Style: Owari Province, 1852. Oban.
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This is a print from the enigmatically titled A Modern Set of Edo Provinces in Brocade Style. It comes from the same year as the successful Kunisada Tokaido Road series and may have been an attempt to cash in on the popularity of his rival’s themes. Certainly, actor censorship was still restrictive and this series, like that of Kunisada, is a thinly veiled attempt to portray a kabuki actor within a worthy subject matter. The series depicts two Japanese provinces on each sheet; the mitate (the game for the viewer) is to connect them and in a way, to reveal the performance. Conventionally, this piece is described as depicting at the top: Owari Province with Watanabe no Tsuna, standing at a tree watching the child Usui no Sadamitsu. In the lower panel: Mikawa Province with the actor Iwai Kumesaburo III as Ushiwakamaru looking back at Joruri-hime carrying a lantern.
The meaning is complicated… Watanabe no Tsuna was a samurai retainer of Minamoto no Yorimitsu (the hero Raiko). In legend, he and Raiko discover a boy known as Kaidomaru, of phenomenal strength and raised by animals. He too becomes one of Raiko’s retainers and takes the name Kintoki. Sadamitsu was also a retainer of Raiko but not a foundling as depicted in the illustration. The lower pane shows the young Yoshitsune no Minamoto observing his lover, the young Joruri. In legend, the hero Minamoto travels along the Tokaido Road from exile, gaining his early reputation through contests and adventure. In this episode, he stops to rest at the Yahagi Post-Station, Yoshitsune falls in love with the beautiful Joruri and they meet and make love. Yoshitsune is struck down by illness and with the help of a Buddha, Joruri nurses him back to health. Her return to her parents is effected by Yoshitsune’s friends and mentors, the tengu.
The ‘Brocade Style’ of the title refers to the rapidly developing richness and complexity of woodblock prints, different in every way from the plainer, dryer ukiyo-e of the earlier part of the century.
It is the Minamoto clan that unites the two scenes, and the portrayal of Yoshitsune by Kumesaburo III that is the real subject. This is a very nice Kuniyoshi indeed and the series is well regarded. The print is a fine impression and colour and condition are also fine. Tiny album binding holes to the margin.
Published by Mitaya Kihachi, signed Kuniyoshi ga.
25cm x 36cm.