Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Stories of the Faithful Samurai: Okano Kinemon Kanehide (The Syllable E) 1864. Oban.
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A fantastically dynamic portrait from the last series of prints made by Kunisada at the age of 79. The print is signed nanajukyu sai Toyokuni hitsu (Drawn by Toyokuni 79 years old) as if to emphasise his venerable age and status. This piece is a famous image, often reproduced and occasionally parodied and illustrates the heroes of the Story of the Faithful Samurai - the 47 Ronin who revenged themselves on their master’s proxy assassin. In 1702 Lord Asano of Ako was provoked by Kira Kozukensuke into drawing his sword in the shogun's palace, for which he was forced to take his own life. Forty seven of his retainers became Ronin - samurai without masters. They vowed revenge on their leader and attacked Kira's palace the following year, decapitating him and carrying his head to lay on Asano's grave. They in turn took their own lives.
The print is strictly speaking an actor portrait, but the series is only nominally about actors. The print has three subjects: the actor Ichikawa Shinsa I, the syllable E from the Kana alphabet, and the story of the 47 Ronin. Aside from the outstanding designs, the series is notable because, in spite of an existing ban on artists using real historical names for personalities living before 1572, all ronin are given their original names and not the alisases used for more than 150 years in prints and other popular literature. The heroes are ordered by the letters of the Kana alphabet (the syllabic Japanese writing system where each character corresponds to an individual sound), and the syllable is illustrated in the yellow rhombus at the top of the print.
The feel of the series is borrowed from Kuniyoshi’s pioneering series of the same name of 1847. Like Kuniyoshi, Kunisada pictures the Ronin engaged in the assault on Hangan’s palace in 1702. Like Kuniyoshi, Kunisada encumbers some of the heroes with the domestic objects of palace life - in this case a decorative bouquet which ensnares him like a Medusa’s head.
This is maybe the best design from the series, powerful, dynamic and bursting with energy. Fine colour and impression. The condition is very good, beautifully printed with embossing to the robes, small loss top right hand corner.
Signed nanajukyu sai Toyokuni hitsu, published by Daikokuya Kinzaburo.
25cm x 36cm.