Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road: The young Hideyoshi at Tarui Station, 1853. Oban.
This series of the Kisokaido, like the previous print, is a response to the increased demand for mitate, or puzzle pictures based around travel. Kuniyoshi was much less of a theatre artist than Kunisada and his ‘travel’ series tend more to play to his strengths as an illustrator of myth and legend, as is apparent in this print. Kuniyoshi shows the young Hideyoshi who was known in youth as Sarunosuke, being tied to a rope prior to being lowered down a well. As with western stories of saints and kings, miraculous tales developed about their heroes' unknown - and unverifiable - acts in youth. In the chronicles of the period, the young Hideyoshi is given the childish attributes of his later avatar - namely, strength, courage, wilfulness, dislike of authority and so on. It is one of these stories that Kuniyoshi has drawn, set against a backdrop of the wooded hills of Tarui Station.
Hagiography is a phenomenon common to all cultures: this combination of historical fact, mythology and fiction, designed to elevate the subject and set him (usually) above his contemporaries. In Japan, few other figures than Hideyoshi (1536 - 1598) could be more praised or mythologized. Hideyoshi is the hero general above all others: a ‘peasant samurai’ he rose through the ranks of Oda Nobunaga’s army, eventually to usurp him and finally to unify Japan, establish its feudal system, (isolating the samurai class) and lay the foundations for the Tokugawa administration that followed. He was fiercely ambitious in his foreign campaigns toward China and Korea - which were eventually to be his downfall and a shadow on his legacy. He was also, cunning, horrifyingly brutal and obsessive. An addendum to his legacy is his appearance in a contemporary anime series as a cartoon hero.
A very nice print from a fine series, the colour and impression are fine. The print is trimmed at the right edge.
Published by Yawata-ya Sakujiro.
24cm x 34cm.