Artist: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1865)
Title: Ishikawa Goemon Attacks Momoyama Palace
Dimensions: (L) 24 x 35.3 (C) 24 x 35.3 (R) 24.2 x 35.4 cm
Known throughout Japan as a Robin Hood figure, Ishikawa Goemon (c.1558-1594) is arguably the nation’s most famous outlaw. Although historical documentation is scarce, Goemon’s exploits during the Warring States period have been adapted and interpreted through a variety of traditional and contemporary mediums.
The triptych shows Goemon fending off Momoyama Palace guards and standing defiantly in the centre of the composition. Driven by a bitter feud with the warlord ‘Mashiba Hisayoshi’, Goemon attempts to assassinate him in his palace quarters. For political and legal reasons, Hisayoshi was actually the pseudonym used for the warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), who is regarded as one of Japan’s three great unifiers. The Edo period (c.1603-1868) saw many sanctions on artistic expression including a ban on depicting historical and political figures. The famous beauty print artist Utamaro Kitagawa (1753-1806) was put under arrest for his seemingly innocuous depiction of Hideyoshi in his palace among his retinue.
Some sources attest that Goemon’s failed assassination on the then most powerful man in the country, led to him and his son’s brutal execution by cauldron. Yet, despite his early death Goemon has been revered for always displaying a show of heroism and bravery up until the very moment of his execution.