Kunisada I Utagawa, The Forty-seven Faithful Samurai before the Night Attack


Artist: Kunisada I Utagawa (1786-1865)
Title: The Forty-seven Faithful Samurai before the Night Attack
Publisher: Moriya Jihei
Date: c.1830-1840s
Size: (L)35 x 24.6 (C)34.9 x 24.7 (R)35 x 24.7 cm


Original Japanese woodblock print.

kunisada I utagawa, The Forty-seven Faithful Samurai before the Night Attack
kunisada I utagawa, The Forty-seven Faithful Samurai before the Night Attack kunisada I utagawa, The Forty-seven Faithful Samurai before the Night Attack

Kanadehon Chushingura, the story of forty-seven retainers, is one of the greatest tales about loyalty and revenge in Japanese history. It is closely based on a historical event from the eighteenth century.

While preparing for the visit of the Emperor's ambassador in Edo Castle, one of the noblemen, Lord Asano of Ako, provoked by the countless insults, drew his sword on the other lord wounding him considerably. However, as drawing a weapon in the palace was strictly prohibited, Lord Asano was sentenced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). His property was confiscated and his samurai dismissed, making them ronin, or masterless warriors. Thereafter, the ronin avenged their master by killing the enemy and putting his head on the grave of Lord Asano. The story ends with the honourable death by seppuku of the faithful samurai.

Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)

Kunisada I Utagawa was a prolific woodblock print artist mostly known for his pictures of beautiful women (bijinga) and kabuki actors prints (yakusha-e). Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he became a pupil of Toyokuni I Utagawa (1769-1825) at the age of 15 and would later adopt his name in the traditional Japanese manner, becoming Toyokuni III and continuing the development of the Utagawa art school.

Kunisada’s pictures reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country’s opening to the West. His first book illustrations were published in 1807 and his first actor portrait the following year. Alongside theatrical scenes and courtesans, yakusha-e was his preferred genre amidst all his popular and extensive output. As he painted a large number of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the nickname ‘Yakusha-e no Kunisada’ – Kunisada, the actor painter. In his numerous bijinga he clung to the ideal of beauty prevalent at the time. Most of the women portrayed were courtesans from Yoshiwara, the regulated red-light district of the city.

In 1820s Kunisada joined author Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) to work on illustrating a series of books based on the classical novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, the reinterpreted story having been relocated from the old capital of Kyoto to the new audience in Edo. The work started a new ukiyo-e genre, genji-e, and proved an overnight success, becoming the first Japanese publication to sell over 10,000 copies, a record which stood for many years.

Kunisada gave his audience an escape from the restrictions of their ordinary lives and his designs, with their optimism and energy, still have the capacity today to attract and entertain. Notable students of Kunisada included Kunichika Toyohara, Sadahide Utagawa and Kunisada II Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistToyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)
SubjectSamurai & Male
Dimensions(L)35 x 24.6 (C)34.9 x 24.7 (R)35 x 24.7 cm
Condition ReportTrimmed, restored holes, light rubbing.
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