Kuniyoshi, Selection for the 12 Signs - Tiger

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Selection for the Twelve Signs: Soga Juro Sukenari (Tiger) 1845. Oban.

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This very fine print, atmospheric and mysterious and beautifully realised is from one of several series about the zodiac.  The Buddhist zodiac consists of twelve animals: rat, bull, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar.  There is a story that only these twelve animals came when called by Buddha, and this is the order in which they came. In this series of prints, various historical and mythical figures are likened to the twelve animals of the zodiac.  A tiny image of the appropriate animal - in this case a tiger - may be found on the edge of the title cartouche.

The print, in the same mitate convention as others in this exhibition, shows the actor Sawamura Sojuro V taking the role of Soga Juro Sukenari in the kabuki drama, The Soga Brothers' Revenge (Soga Monogatari). The series was produced at a time when censorship of the stage forced artists to search around for innocuous subjects which they could populate with the likenesses of actors. Soga Monogatari is one of the enduring folk heroes of Japanese legend and frequently depicted in Japanese art.  The story was a popular subject for kabuki audiences. In 1175 Kudo Saemon Suketsune had his cousin Sukemichi assassinated in order to gain an inheritance. Eighteen years later, in 1193, Sukemichi’s two sons Juro Sukenari and Goro Tokimune revenged themselves by killing Suketsune in the course of a hunting party on Mount Fuji. Juro was killed in the fight but Goro was taken prisoner. What follows is the crux of the play’s tragedy for Japanese audiences. Although the shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, sympathised with the brothers' loyalty and was inclined to pardon Goro, he was persuaded by Suketsune’s son to execute him. The conflict between the duty of the sons and the authority of the state remains a vital key to understanding both bushido (the way of the samurai) and the feudal system of the shogunate. Juro’s lover was called Oiso Tora, Tora being the word for Tiger in Japanese and hence the choice of subject and the small tiger visible in the border of the cartouche.

Fine impression, colour and condition, with beautifully embossed details; trimmed to the image.

Published by Iseya Ichibei.

35cm x 25cm.