Yoshitoshi, The Battle of Ichi-no-tani

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) The Battle of Ichi-no-tani (1860’s). Oban Diptych.

This enigmatic print by Yoshitoshi shows the opening events of the Battle of Ichi-no-tani in 1184. It is possible that this is two sheets of a triptych; however the design seems to be complete and perfectly well balanced as a diptych and I am therefore inclined to think of it as complete. All of the devices that Yoshitoshi was to develop in his career are apparent in this early print… the terrific contrast between the dense and dark activity that dominates the right hand sheet and the lighter, airier space of the left; the two sheets linked by the menacing line of the precipitous and towering cliff; the tight focus on the concentrated faces of the samurai and the sketchier landscape of the Taira encampment laid out below. The colour here also has much of the contrast and richness that Yoshitoshi exploited in the 1880’s in his great triptychs and vertical diptychs.  Yoshitoshi has used the woodgrain pattern in the grey sky and landscape to emphasise the downward motion of the impending assault.

After the Taira clan had been driven out of Kyoto by the Minamato clan, they moved north looking to find support among provinvial lords. At Ichi-no-Tani they made camp close to the sea. It lay on a small coastal strip with the sea to the south and a steep cliff to the north.  Yoshitsune was the younger brother to Yoritomo, the head of the Minamoto clan. He was a smart and courageous military leader, and decided to take Ichi-no-Tani by surprise by climbing down the steep cliffs with only 150 men. When Yoshitsune's troop was near enough, they set the Taira houses on fire using burning arrows. The enemy was caught completely by surprise. The Taira were either killed in combat or fled to their fleet which was anchored off shore. Among them were the leader of the Taira, and the young Emperor Antoku and his grandmother. Only a month later, the Taira were forever defeated by Yoshitsune at the famous naval battle of Dan-no-ura

Yoshitoshi pictures the Minamoto troops on the right hand sheet preparing to make the morning descent of the cliffs. On the left sheet Ichi-no-tani lies unprepared. The style here is directly borrowed from his teacher Kuniyoshi, as is the subject matter. A Kuniyoshi triptych of the same subject from 1845 lends weight to this print being incomplete. However, Yoshitoshi's print is a more successful composition as it stands than that of Kuniyoshi's three sheets where the middle ground space is mangled.

Colour, impression and condition are all fine.

Published by Tsutaya Kichizo.

51 x 37 cm.