Chikanobu Yoshu, Taira no Kiyomori, Skulls in the Snow


Artist: Chikanobu Yoshu (1838-1912)
Title: Yamashiro
Series: Setsugekka – Snow, Moon and Flowers
Date: 1884
Publisher: Maruya Tetsujiro
Size: 24.7 x 37.0 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

chikanobu yoshu, ghost, supernatural, skulls in the snow
chikanobu yoshu, ghost, supernatural, skulls in the snow chikanobu yoshu, ghost, supernatural, skulls in the snow

Inauspicious dreams kept the Taira in a constant state of nerves after the move to Fukuhara, and there were many strange apparitions. This print shows Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181), the head of the Taira warrior clan that established the first samurai government in Japan. His exploits became one of the subjects of the warrior epic, 'The Tale of the Heike'. Depicted here is a famous episode in which the dying Kiyomori, suffering from a hallucinatory fever, is haunted by a vision of all the enemies he has murdered during his military campaigns. The enemies have taken the shape of skulls in the snow outside the mansion.

Chikanobu Yoshu

Chikanobu Yoshu was a ukiyo-e 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 FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistChikanobu Yoshu
SubjectSamurai & Male, Landscapes, Ghosts & Religion
Dimensions24.7 x 37.0 cm
Condition ReportMinor glue stains, light creasing, horizontal centrefold, small loss in bottom left corner, minor restorations
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