Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets 48 - Emperor Antoku and the Lady in waiting Tenji

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #22: Emperor Antoku and the Lady in waiting Tenji, 1845 - 1847. Oban.

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As soon as it blows,
the autumn trees and grasses
droop, and this must be why,
quite rightly, the mountain wind
is called ‘The Ravager’.

Kuniyoshi, in this fine print from the Ogura Poets series, depicts the famous and tragic child Emperor of Japan Antoku (1178 - 85). The Taira clan, of which Antoku was by succession leader and Emperor of Japan, ruled the country in the twelfth century. The rival Minamoto clan were at the time of his reign, strengthening their grip on the country in a series of battles called the Genpei Wars. The fighting culminated in a great sea battle at Dan-no-ura where the Taira were overwhelmed by the Minamoto. Preferring death to surrender, the generals of the Taira threw themselves into the sea. The grandmother of Antoku famously told the child that they were to visit the Dragon King’s palace and with the royal regalia, she also threw herself into the waves

Kuniyoshi shows the moments before the battle. In the background we see the banners of the approaching Minamoto and the sea beyond. Antoku is seated with his nursemaid Tenji who is also the mistress of the Taira General Tomomori. Kuniyoshi references the mountain and the wind in the detail of the banners. and landscape.

This series of 100 prints is one of the outstanding achievements of woodblock printing in Japan in the nineteenth century. Commissioned by the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo in 1845, the series is the joint work of Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada - the three outstanding woodblock artists of the age. The prints in the series are beautifully composed, drawn and printed and they exhibit a remarkable conformity of style. The edition was one in a long line of anthologies which gathered together the canon of great poetry going back to the eighth century. Whilst there had been previous attempts by artists to anthologise and illustrate the great poems, notably by Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi himself,  this was the first major work to be completed.

The poems themselves were gathered together by the scholar Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. It is presumed that these poems were taken from a commission that resulted in the pieces being written out by hand by Teika and glued to the doors of his villa in the shadow of Mount Ogura - hence the name of the series. Some of these fragments still exist in museums in Japan. One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, became the standard textbook for Japanese poetry for centuries to come. The poems themselves are in the Tanka style, that is, five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables - different to the more familiar Haiku of today. The prints are mitate - pictures that allude via analogy to the subject of the print. In this way, the publisher challenged the reader to find the meaning of the pictures within the visual clues of the print.

A very fine print in excellent condition.  Full size with margins, minor centre fold, colour and impression are also fine.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36cm x 24cm.