Hiroshige, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets 39 - The Priest Sogen

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #39: The Priest Sogen, 1845 -1847. Oban.

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We are showing three prints from the very famous print series A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets, sometimes known as the Hundred Poets Compared. This series of 100 prints is one of the outstanding achievements of woodblock printing in Japan in the nineteenth century. Commissioned by the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo in 1845, the series is the joint work of Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada - the three outstanding woodblock artists of the age. The prints in the series are beautifully composed, drawn and printed and they exhibit a remarkable conformity of style. The edition was one in a long line of anthologies which gathered together the canon of great poetry going back to the eighth century. Whilst there had been previous attempts by artists to anthologise and illustrate the great poems, notably by Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi himself, this was the first major work to be completed.

The poems themselves were gathered together by the scholar Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. It is presumed that these poems were taken from a commission that resulted in the pieces being written out by hand by Teika and glued to the doors of his villa in the shadow of Mount Ogura - hence the name of the series. Some of these fragments still exist in museums in Japan. One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, became the standard textbook for Japanese poetry for centuries to come. The poems themselves are in the Tanka style, that is, five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables - different to the more familiar Haiku popular today. The prints are mitate - pictures that allude via analogy to the subject of the print. In this way, the publisher challenged the reader to find the meaning of the pictures within the visual clues of the print.

It never ceases to amaze me that the many indifferent landscapes of Hiroshige’s huge career are always considered more valuable than his fewer (and rarer) figure and genre scenes. The more so because as in this series, they are so outstandingly good. The tale of Sogen the wicked priest… or the good priest turned wicked by love, was hugely popular with Edo audiences. Sogen meets princess Sakura who has visited his temple to view blossoms. They fall in love at first sight and Sogen is expelled from the monastery but the princess dies and Sogen is left with nothing except her kimono and a painting. Hiroshige shows Sogen gone mad - evident from his long nails and beard. He gazes at the painting of Sakura and her kimono is seen on the right, poking out of a box. The cherry branch in the pot in front of him reminds us of their first meeting. The poem reads:

Though I reveal my love
as sparingly as the sparse reeds
that grow in low bamboo fields,
it overwhelms me - why is it
that I must love her so?

A great Hiroshige, colour impression and condition are all fine except for some minor binding holes.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36 x 25 cm.