Kunisada, Stories of the Faithful Samurai - Nakamura Ganpachi I as Onodera Hidetomo

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Stories of the Faithful Samurai: Nakamura Ganpachi I as Onodera Hidetomo (The Syllable Sa) 1864. Oban.

This series was designed by Kunisada at the age of 79 in the year 1864. It seems to be the last of his great series on this subject. The 47 Ronin were arranged by the 47 syllables of the Kana-alphabet and shown in their last fight against their opponent, Prince Enya Hangan, which took place at night at the beginning of 1703. Kunisada uses the nocturnal setting to great effect, contrasting the dark tones with the traditional costumes of the heroes. Although the use of real historical names for personalities living before 1572 was forbidden in 1864, all Ronin are here given their original names and not their aliases which were used for more than 150 years in prints and other popular literature.

The prints of the Loyal Samurai remain striking to this day; aided by the contrast of the traditional dog tooth design of the clothing (every version of the story benefits from the bold black and white scheme) and by the passion for the subject and the reverence with which the story was held at a time of open criticism of the Tokugawa government. Ronin prints are essentially subversive - in part because the sentence carried out on the surviving members was overly harsh and judged to be wrong, and in part because they recall a Japan that was remembered for its honour and its values rather than the perceived decadence and weakness of the Tokugawa’s final days.

This print shows Hidetomo, fending off a brazier that is falling on him, the hot coals tumbling out of the print. Something that Kunisada and Kuniyoshi enigmatically return to time and again when drawing the Chushingura is the pathetic domesticity of the action. These 'heroes' are in fact fighting with household objects and for the most part clumsily… one doubts sometimes how much sympathy either Kunisada or Kuniyoshi had with the attack or the vendetta. It is in any case a theatre print, albeit disguised.

I love this series and it is well designed and well printed throughout. The piece has been album mounted in the past, otherwise it is in good condition and colour and impression are excellent.

Publishd by Daikokuya Kinzaburo.

36 x 24 cm.