Yoshichika, Priest and Acolyte

(Ikkesisai) Yoshichika Utagawa (active 1850's - 90’s) Priest and Acolyte, c.1850. Oban.

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A magnificent design by a hugely talented but little known pupil of Kuniyoshi… the influence of Kuniyoshi is evident throughout. The subject is unknown, but the central character is a 'warrior priest', identified by the pill-box cap, the four pom-poms sewn onto his breast and the long stick with the cloth tied to the end. Comparison with Kuniyoshi’s rendering of the great warrior priest hero Benkei makes the case for saying that the picture is a portrayal of Benkei and the habitually effeminate Yoshitsune, although I cannot be certain. The distinctive garb of the Shugendou sect of Buddhism consists of the small black hat called a Tokin, and the brace like top with four pom-poms called a Yuigesa, the Shakujo staff, and the elaborate robes. Japanese Buddhism was quite different to the contemporary idea of meditation, peace above all things, non-violence and contemplation. Whilst the sect were dedicated to mystical enlightenment through fasting and meditation, they were not averse to proselytising and spreading the influence of their sect through scheming, politics and extreme violence if necessary.

The Bushido, the code of practice for samurai, fitted well with the code of Buddhism with its emphasis on self reliance, duty and dedication. The boundary between the obligatory and habitual violence of the medieval samurai and the practice of self denial of the various sects was very porous and both practices were capable of great extremes of behaviour.

The print is a magnificent design. The richness of the oranges and blues, superbly unfaded animate the dedicated landscape of waterfall and maple leaves. The emphasis on the balance of the natural world in this print chimes with the portrayal of the warrior priest. Colour, impression and condition are all fine. Full size.

Published by Tsujiokaya Bunsuke.

36 x 24 cm.