Hirosada, Bando Hachigoro I and Jitsukawa Enzaburo in Nichiren Shonin Minori no Umi

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Bando Hachigoro I as Tojo Hangen and Jitsukawa Enzaburo I as the Buddhist priest Nichiren, in the play Nichiren Shonin Minori no Umi, 1850. Deluxe Chuban Diptych.

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Another simply outstanding Hirosada diptych, this one showing a scene from the life of Nichiren, the founder of the Buddhist sect that bears his name. Nichiren (1222 - 1282), was a Japanese Buddhist priest, his sect of Nichiren Buddhism differing from other schools of Buddhism in focussing on this world, and in its view that it is the only correct tradition. It also emphasises the importance of individuals taking responsibility for improving themselves. Unsurprisingly, this was seen as arrogant and was unpopular with other priests and sects; and as a result Nichiren spent time in exile and was the subject of assassination attempts. The play, Nichiren Shonin Minori no Umi, tells the story of his life which, like all hagiographies, is heavily embroidered and contains many ‘improving scenes’; most famously the story of the cormorant fisherman which became the subject of an entire series by Kuniyoshi and various prints by Yoshitoshi. The sect was especially popular with artists, playwrights and actors of the late Edo. Oddly, one of the most famous contemporary Nichiren Buddhists today is the singer and actress Tina Turner, who in the 1993 movie What's Love Got to Do with It, an autobiographical film about Turner's rise to stardom and her relationship with her abusive husband,  chanted the Buddhist Nam Myoho Renge Kyo mantra.

Hirosada shows the assassination attempt of 1271.  Hei no Saemon and a group of soldiers abducted Nichiren from his hut in Kamakura. Their intent was to arrest and behead him. According to Nichiren's account, an astronomical phenomenon — "a brilliant orb as bright as the moon" — over the seaside execution grounds terrified the executioners into inaction. The incident is regarded as a turning point in Nichiren's lifetime called Hosshaku kenpon: "casting off the transient and revealing the true.”

We see the devout priest, untroubled by the commotion behind him; the sky is ablaze with the supernatural event and his would be executioner, sword broken is thrust back to the right of the piece… his cohort are seen cowering behind him. The lightning is especially dramatic, as is the portrayal here of the contorted figure of the assassin… which seems to borrow such a  lot from the western Renaissance tradition of religious painting. Colour, impression and condition are really outstanding.