Chikanobu Yoshu, Nitta Yoshisada, Warrior


Artist: Chikanobu Yoshu (1838-1912)
Title: Nitta Yoshisada (Minamoto no Yoshisada)
Publisher: Shimizuya Tsunejiro
Date: 1893
Dimensions: (L) 22.9 x 35.5 (C) 25.1 x 35.6 (R) 23.8 x 35.7 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print. 

The solemn and dignified air of the scene presages the miraculous event about to happen. Embarking on the Kamakura campaign of 1333 to defeat the Hōjō clan on imperial order, Nitta Yoshisada (1301-1338) found himself at an insurmountable impasse. Blocked by the natural fortress of Kamakura's vertiginous slopes and the Hōjō's fleet spread along the capes, obeying the Emperor Go-Daigo's (1288-1339) command required an extraordinary phenomenon. Yoshisada placed himself by the shore and looked out towards the ocean, praying to the dragon god Ryujin, the all-powerful regent of the seas. He then threw his sword into the water. Magnificently answering his call, the dragon god parted the sea, allowing Yoshisada to reach the Hōjō stronghold.

Chikanobu has shown the warrior with his helmet removed, held by one of his men on the right panel. The headgear is ornamented with a golden dragon, making reference to the entity whose aid he prays for. Significant space of the composition has been given to the ocean waves, fading with faint gradations into the horizon and overcast sky.

Chikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)

Chikanobu Yoshu was a woodblock print artist from the end of the 19th century. He was one of the most prolific woodblock print artists of this period, working with both traditional subjects, such as actors, courtesans, scenes of famous sites, beautiful women, and with topical subjects, such as war and rebellion. Born into a samurai family in Echigo province, Chikanobu became one of the final, great, ukiyo-e artists aiming to preserve the traditional culture of Japan at a time when the country was becoming rapidly modernised. As a child, he studied Kano style painting. When he moved to Tokyo he studied print design first at the studio of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1797-1861) and later on at that of Kunisada I Utagawa (1786–1865).

The end of the Edo period (1603-1868) and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912) brought a rapid influx of Western values and technologies that influenced many artists of this time, including Chikanobu. As a result, he developed a distinctive personal style blending a close adherence to the traditional technique of ukiyo-e, and occasional western imagery. He designed prints rooted in traditional myths and legends but also kaika-e, prints that documented Japan's modernization, the Emperor Meiji and the imperial court's promotion of that modernization.

Even though Chikanobu’s prints showcase a variety of subjects, due to the wealth of his beauties and court ladies works, it is believed that the customs and events of the imperial family were his favourite subject. Out of these prints, the most well-known series is probably ‘The Inner Palace of Chiyoda’ (‘Chiyoda no O-oku’), which depicts the court life in the palace of the Tokugawa shogunate. Influenced by the rapid changes happening in Japanese society following the Meiji restoration, Chikanobu also produced beauty prints showing ladies in Western clothing, as opposed to kimono. Chikanobu's last works in the early years of the 20th century featured brave samurai and heroic women of Japan's past, models of appropriate behaviour for the future.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistChikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Landscapes
Size(L) 22.9 x 35.5 (C) 25.1 x 35.6 (R) 23.8 x 35.7 cm
Condition ReportLeft panel backed. Vertical fold mark on the right side. Small brown stain lower centre of the central panel. Paper partially thinned.
publisherShimizuya Tsunejiro:1843-1904