Yoshimine, Portrait of an Actor as Ushiwakamaru

Utagawa Yoshimine (active 1855 - 1878) Portrait of an Actor as Ushiwaka Maru, 1859.  Deluxe Chuban.

Yoshimine was a pupil of Yoshiume and is named as a student of Kuniyoshi on his memorial stone. This very fine print is a portrait of an actor in the role of the young Ushiwaka Maru - the juvenile name of the great hero Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159 - 1189) from the literary legend, Heike Monogatari. Yoshitsune has parallels with the English folk hero Robin Hood; and his is a tragic and very famous story in Japan. His father was persecuted by the rival Taira Clan and Yoshitsune was brought up in a monastery. Legend has it that he was then taught the secrets of fighting by Tengu (mythical forest creatures) before taking up rebellion against his father’s old enemies. Yoshitsune is usually pictured fighting the warrior monk Benkei at Gojo Bridge. Benkei, known as a phenomenally strong man and warrior, has secured the bridge with the intention of relieving 1000 samurai of their swords. Yoshitsune is his 1000th victim. Yoshitsune, though slight, defeats the giant man using Tengu fighting skills. Benkei becomes his loyal protector and between them they lead an armed rebellion against the Taira, establishing Yoshitsune’s brother as the first national Shogun - a position that would last 650 years until the 19th century. Yoshitsune was betrayed by his brother and later killed himself and his family at the siege of Koromogawa no tate.

Despite being such a famed warrior, Yoshitsune is usually pictured as having a delicate feminine beauty as in this piece. Yoshimine pictures Ushiwaka maru raising a tessen or fighting fan with which he is usually pictured especially in his fight against Benkei. The tessen is a deceptive item, made from sharpened iron in the shape of a delicate fan. This signifier has more to it perhaps than meets the eye - standing in as it were for the youth’s delicacy, concealing his own deadly fighting skills.

A fine print, full size with margins, colour impression and condition are all fine.

19cm x 25cm.