Friday, April 25, 2008

Kuniyoshi: "The Faithful Samurai"

I found this description of the "Chushingura" (the subject of the previous post), which is often referred to as the “Treasury of Loyal Hearts”, and felt it provided a better overview of the story:

Found at

"One of the most famous stories of revenge in Japanese history comprises the exploits of the 47 Ronin (masterless samurai) who avenged the death of their lord in the early 18th century. Their story, the Chushingura, illustrates and defines the Japanese concept of loyalty, providing a supreme example of the samurai ideals of cool courage and fidelity. The Faithful Samurai: Kuniyoshi Woodblock Prints tells this tale through the stunning triptychs, warrior prints, and bust portraits of artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861).
In 1701, a feudal lord, Asano Naganori, was dishonored by Lord Kira, the Shogun's Master of Ceremonies. Lord Asano could no longer bear the insults and humiliating behavior directed toward him by his superior. Despite all efforts at self-control, he drew his sword in a fit of rage and struck Kira, but not fatally. Any violence inside the Shogun's palace was forbidden, and Lord Asano was ordered to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide. His estates and castle were confiscated, and all his men were disbanded to become ronin.
The group of the dishonored Asano's faithful samurai swore an oath to avenge his death. The conspirators had full knowledge that such a plan, if successful, would lead to seppuku for them all, because secret revenge was against the law. After a year of planning, the group came together and attacked Kira's mansion. Following a fierce fight, they beheaded Kira and formally presented the head before the grave of their slain lord. A few months later, all 47 ronin committed judicially imposed seppuku.
This event struck a deep emotional chord in the very heart of Japanese society, and the result was a steady stream of theatrical performances, books, and woodblock prints.
Kuniyoshi was a portrayer of Japanese history and legend. In all, he produced more than 1,600 single-sheet prints and 360 triptychs. But the 47 Ronin especially held his artistic attention with great passion and intensity throughout his 45-year career. He produced 12 series and 20 triptychs devoted to the Chushingura, or “Treasury of Loyal Hearts” as the story is called in Japanese. "

Copyright ©2005 Mid-America Arts Alliance. All rights reserved.

Onodera Junai's wife (one of the 47 ronin) preparing for jigai (female version of seppuku) to follow her husband in death : legs are bound as to maintain a decent posture in agony ; death is given by a tanto cut at the jugular vein. Kuniyoshi woodcut, Seichu gishin den series ("Story of truthful hearts"), 1848

Benkei holding a halberd
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)


David said...

this drawing is great!

Kuniyoshi_Cat said...

Thanks David. As the blog progresses my plan is to dive deeper into the world of the artists at that time in Japan, and also how it relates to other art and cultural periods, as well as related subject matter and the themes portrayed by this period. Have a great day!