Kuniyoshi, Japanese Heroes for the 12 Signs - Hare

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Japanese Heroes for the Twelve Signs: Hare - Shinodzuka Iga no Kami, 1854. Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

The link between the zodiac creature and the historical character is very explicit in this very fine warrior print from Kuniyoshi of 1854. This great series of 12 prints illustrates the signs of the Japanese zodiac, taking individual Japanese heroes - warriors, generals and so on - and pairing their characteristics with the animals of the astrological chart. The twelve animals are: rat, bull, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar. These animals were chosen because they were called by the Buddha to his death bed. All of the prints in the series have the title on a shaded oblong cartouche including the name of the hero and the character for the sign.

In this print Kuniyoshi shows the fourteenth century samurai and general, Shinodzuka Iga no Kami. He stands on the sea shore, raving - a man possessed - one of Kuniyoshi’s great representations of warriors. This terrifying apparition in black armour (blind printed and burnished) wears a helmet with a mane of white animal hair, surmounted by a bronze hare with enormous ears. He grasps a spear and he stands defiantly in a field of broken, fallen arrows.

He was a retainer of the powerful warlord Nitta no Yoshisada, a maverick who may have been responsible for the eventual split between the Northern and Southern courts. Shinodzuka was renowned for his phenomenal strength and is often pictured showing impossible feats of energy.

This is a fine, deluxe print, delicately printed with burnishing and embossing and fine shading. Shomen-zuri to the armour, mica applied to the sky. Colour, impression and and condition are all fine.

Publisher: Mikawa-ya Kihei.

25 x 36 cm.