Yoshikatsu, Nakamura Utaemon as Oniwakamaru

Utagawa Yoshikatsu (active 1835-1850) Nakamura Utaemon in the Role of Oniwakamaru, 1838. Oban.

Click here for a full-size image.

An outstanding design. This print by a little known pupil of Kuniyoshi, oozes confidence, exuberance, design sensibility and quality. It’s a really great thing, this flimsy, paper print that has survived fire and earthquake as well as careless collectors: the figure of Oniwakamaru is a tightly coiled ball of energetic pattern, bursting with ornament that threatens to exceed the confines of the page.

Stories about Benkei's birth vary considerably. One sees him as the offspring of a temple god. Many give him the attributes of a demon, a monster child with wild hair and long teeth. In his youth, Benkei may have been called Oniwaka, "demon/ogre child", and there are many famous ukiyo-e works themed on Oniwakamaru and his adventures. He joined the monastery at an early age and like other monks, Benkei was trained in the use of the weapons. At the age of seventeen he became a member of a sect of mountain ascetics who were recognisable by their black caps. Japanese prints often show Benkei wearing this cap.  Benkei is said to have posted himself at Gojo Bridge in Kyoto, where he disarmed every passing swordsman, eventually collecting 999 swords. On his 1000th duel, Benkei was defeated by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a son of the warlord Minamoto no Yoshitomo. Henceforth, he became a retainer of Yoshitsune and fought with him in the Genpei War against the Taira clan. Yoshitsune is credited with most of the Minamoto clan's successes against the Taira, especially the final naval battle of Dan-no-ura.  After their ultimate triumph, however, Yoshitsune's elder brother Minamoto no Yoritomo turned against him.

A great piece of work, colour, impression and condition are all fine.

35cm x 24cm.