Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Stories of the Faithful Samurai: Ichikawa Danzo VI as Hara Souemon Motosai (The Syllable Re) 1864. Oban.
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The prints of the Loyal Samurai remain striking to this day; aided by the contrast of the traditional dog tooth design of the clothing (every version of the story benefits from the bold black and white scheme) and by the passion of the subject and the reverence with which the story was held at a time of open criticism of the Tokugawa government. Ronin prints are essentially subversive - in part because the sentence carried out on the surviving members was overly harsh and judged to be wrong, and in part because they recall a Japan that was remembered for its honour and its values rather than the perceived decadence and weakness of the Tokugawa’s final days. This print cleverly pairs the costume of the ronin with the bold shades produced by the hand-held lantern, creating further oppositional areas of light and shade. The surface zings with angles, points, counterpoints and pattern, all of it emphasising the dynamism of the subject.
It is said (via Kuniyoshi’s telling) that Hara Souemon Motosai (Hara Goemon Mototoki) was a kind of quartermaster for the raid on the palace, but the role is incidental since this is really a portrait of Ichikawa Danzo VI. However, the series is only nominally about actors. This print has three subjects: the actor Ichikawa Danzo VI, the syllable Re 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 aliases 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.
A fine piece, beautifully printed, powerful, dynamic and bursting with energy. Fine colour and impression with embossing to the robes. The condition excellent.
Signed nanajukyu sai Toyokuni hitsu, published by Daikokuya Kinzaburo.
25cm x 36cm.