Japanese triptych book

About 1860. Colour woodblock print.

Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide , Utagawa Yoshitora, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Kunitsuna, Morikawa Chikashige, Utagawa Yoshifusa and Toyohara Kunichika.

Triptych book formed by 12 ukiyo-e prints by various woodblock print designers that include scenes from the renowned tale of the 47 Ronin and other historical and battle scenes.

The triptych book was donated to RAMM in 1933 by Exeter-resident Lieutenant-Colonel R.J. Saumarez (1864 -1943). The prints were cropped and inserted back to back into the book.

Images of each scene are presented at the bottom of the page.


Page 1: Utagawa Yoshitora  歌川芳虎 (active c. 1836–1887)

Date: 1863

Signature: Yoshitora ga (芳虎画)

Publisher: Maruya Tetsujirō (Enjudō publishing house)

This depicts a scene at the court of the Kamakura shogunate. On the raised tatami is sitting Minamoto no Sanetomo源實朝公 (1192-1219, r. 1203-1219), the third shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate and the last head of the Minamoto clan. He was a talented poet, with one of his tanka poems being included in the anthology 100 Poems by 100 Poets (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu). He was assassinated on New Year’s Day in 1219 by his nephew Minamoto no Yoshinari, shortly after participating in a ceremony celebrating his nomination to the honorary court position of Minister of the Right (Udaijin 右大臣). Since he is given the title ‘Udaijin Minamoto no Sanetomo’ in this print, this scene might be shortly before his death. Sadly the narrative panel at the top has been cropped so it is hard to make out what is being said.

Page 2: Utagawa Yoshitora 歌川芳虎 (active c. 1836–1887)

The Forces of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu Returning Home (Ashikaga Yoshimitsu kijin no zu足利義満帰陣之図)

Signature: Yoshitora ga (芳虎画)

Publisher: Yamadaya Shōjirō

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu is known as the shogun who ended the imperial division of Japan (between the Northern and Southern Courts) in 1392. It is interesting that Yoshitora has depicted Yoshimitsu travelling eastwards with Mount Fuji in the background of this print even though Yoshimitsu was actually based further west in the Kansai area.

See version at MFA, Boston: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-forces-of-ashikaga-yorimitsu-returning-home-ashikaga-yoshimitsu-kijin-no-zu-536729

Page 3: Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide 歌川五雲亭貞 (1807–1878/79)

View of the sunrise in Shinagawa in the Eastern capital (Tōto Shinagawa hinode no kei 東都品川日之出之景

Signature: Gountei Sadahide ga (五雲亭貞秀画)

Date: 1866

Publisher: Enshūya Hikobei

Block carver: Katada Horinaga

Gountei Sadahide is best known for his pictures of foreigners in Yokohama in the 1860s (known as Yokohama-e). Although this looks like a typical Sadahide Yokohama-e, with the foreign ‘black ships’ in the harbour, it is actually a view of Shinagawa in Edo. The print is surely inspired by the Hiroshige’s famous depiction of Shinagawa, Shinaga hinode, the second print in his Hoeidō ‘53 Stations of the Tokaido’ series. As in Hiroshige’s print you can just glimpse a daimyo procession passing along the street of shops and restaurants. The cranes flying overhead are auspicious symbols, representing longevity and good fortune.

Page 4: Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797–1861)

Title: Akamatsu Castle attacked by flooding (Akamatsu no shiro mizuzeme no zu 赤松之城水責之図)

Signature: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga (一勇斎国芳画)

Date: 1860

Publisher: Izumiya Ichibei (Kansendō publishing house)

This triptych is typical of the ‘great armies’ genre that was popular with Utagawa School artists in the mid-19th century. These big set piece prints revived scenes from the Japan’s medieval past, when the powerful warrior clans battled for control of the country before final unification under the Tokugawa shoguns. Ukiyo-e artists were officially banned from depicting actual historical events involving the shogunate, but as censorship began to be relaxed in the 1860s, print designers found a ready market for previously censored historical imagery.

‘Akamatsu Castle’ is really Takamatsu Castle, which was besieged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1582. After a month or two of siege, Hideyoshi built dykes to divert a nearby river and flooded the castle, leading to a quick surrender.

See also:

B. W. Robinson, Kuniyoshi : the warrior-prints, T355

See: http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/Warrior%20triptychs%201858-1861%20%28T349-T358%29.htm

Page 5: Utagawa Yoshitora歌川芳虎 (active c. 1836–1882)

Title: The Great Battle of Uji River (Ujikawa ō-gassen no zu 宇治川大合戦図)
Date: 1853

Signature: Kinchōrō Yoshitora ga (錦朝楼芳虎画)

Publisher: Sanoya Kihei (Kikakudō publishing house)

Page 6: Utagawa Kunitsuna 歌川 国綱 (active c. 1820-1865)

Race at the Great Battle of Uji River (Ujikawa ō-gassen senjinzu 宇治川大合戦先陣図)

Signature (right-hand print): Ichiransai Kunitsuna ga (一蘭斎国綱画)

Signature (centre print): Kunitsuna ga (国綱画)

Date: 1861

Publisher: Katoya Iwazō (Kichibidō publishing house)

Both prints depict the second of two dramatic battles that took place in 1183 at the Uji River, during the Genpei wars (between the Minamoto and Taira clans). Both prints show the two Minamoto warriors Sasaki Takatsuna 佐々木高綱 and Kajiwara Kagesue 梶原景李 leading the Minamoto forces across the flooded river. The two competed to cross first, an incident that was famously recounted in the medieval epic, The Tale of The Heike, and was a popular subject of paintings and of musha-e warrior prints.

See: http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/u/ujigawanokassen.htm for more detail about the Uji battles.

Page 7: Utagawa Yoshitora (active c. 1836–1887) 歌川芳虎

Battle of Yashima at Dannoura (Yashima Dannoura kaijō Genpei ō-gassen no zu八島檀浦海上源平大合戦之図)

Signature: Yoshitora ga (芳虎画)

Date: 1862

Block carver: Katada Horinaga

Publisher: Maruya Tetsujirō (Enjudō publishing house)

The battle of Dannoura was a major sea battle of the Genpei War, occurring at Dannoura in the Shimonoseki Strait off the southern tip of Honshu. On 24 March, 1185, the Genji (Minamoto) clan fleet, led by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, defeated the Heike (Taira) clan fleet, and this battle inspired many print designs.

See: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-great-sea-battle-between-the-minamoto-and-the-taira-at-yashima-dan-no-ura-yashima-dan-no-ura-kaij%C3%B4-genpei-%C3%B4gassen-zu-472374

Page 8: Morikawa Chikashige守川周重 (active c. 1689-1882)

Title: Yoritomo hiding in a tree after the Battle of Ishibashi (Ubakka Ishibashi no ki tonmei isogu no zu右幕下石橋樹遁命急之図)

Signature: Chikashige ga (周重画)

Signature on two left-hand prints: Kunichika no monjin Chikashige (Kunichika’s student Chikashige 国周門人周重画)

Date: 1866

Publisher: unknown

This print shows the warrior Minamoto no Yoritomo and his men hiding from their enemies in a tree during the Genpei War (1180-1185). After his defeat at the Battle of Ishibashiyama, Yoritomo was being followed through the Hakone Mountains by warriors from the enemy Taira clan. One of these warriors, Kajiwara Kagetoki (in the centre here with a bow), was secretly a supporter of Yoritomo. When the Taira soldiers came upon the tree where Yoritomo was hiding, Kagetoki stuck his bow into the tree. This startled two doves that flew away from the tree (see here top left). Kagetoki convinced the other Taira soldiers that no one could be in the tree with the doves, thus allowing Yoritomo to escape. The Minamoto side eventually won the war, and Yoritomo became the military ruler of the county.

Page 9: Utagawa Kunitsuna 歌川 国綱 (1805- 1868)

The Great War between the Minamoto and Taira clans (Genpei ō-gassen源平大合戦)

Signature: Kunitsuna ga

Date: 1862

Publisher:  Echizenya Heisaburō

Page 10: Utagawa Yoshifusa (active c. 1837–1860) 歌川芳房

Title: The Battle of the Ani River (Anigawa gassen no zu 兄川合戦ノ図)

Signature: Ippōsai Yoshitora ga

Date: 1859
Block carver: Hori Kane

Publisher:  Kiya Sōjirō of the Kōbokudō publishing house

Presumably this print is making reference to the Battle of Anegawa of 1570, between the allied forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu and the combined forces of the Azai and Asakura clans. As it was forbidden to depict recent political events, the battle name may have been ‘disguised’ in order to avoid censorship.

See: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-battle-of-the-ani-river-anigawa-kassen-no-zu-465077

Page 11: Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) 豊原国周

Title: Vengeance at Sakadanobaba (Sakadanobaba adauchi no zu 坂田の馬場仇討の図)

Signature: Ichiōsai Kunichika ga (一鶯斎国周画)

Date: 1862

Publisher: Yamada Shōjirō (Kinkyōdō publishing house)

This print makes reference to the Duel of Takadanobaba of 1694, in which Horibe Yasubei (1670-1703, later to become one of the famous forty-seven rōnin, seen here in the centre), bravely defeated several warriors.

Page 12: Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) 豊原国周

Title: Killing the Demon-robber at the Kasamatsu Pass (Kasamatsu tōge kijin o uchitoru zu 笠松峠鬼人を討取図)

Date: 1859

Signature: Kunichika ga (国周画)

Publisher:  Yamadaya Shōjirō

The female demon-robber Omatsu (right) being killed by Natsume Sentarō (centre) at the Kasamatsu mountain pass. The red cartouche top left explains the events depicted. The story was include in the popular kabuki play, ‘Shinpan koshi no shiranami’.

See: http://www.kotobuki.de/art/artwork/kasamatsu-toge-kijin-wo-uchitoru-zu/12407?room=61&start=6540