Yoshitora Utagawa, Battle of Komaki, Japanese History


Artist: Yoshitora Utagawa (act. 1850–80)
Title: Kato Kiyomasa and Honda Tadakatsu
Publisher: Kiya Sojiro
Date: 1866
Size: (L) 25.5 x 36.9 (C) 25 x 36.9 (R) 25 x 36.8 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print. 

Two renowned samurai, Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611) and Honda Tadakatsu (1548-1610), duel on horseback at the Battle of Komaki (1584). With the leading warlords of the Warring States Period Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) now at enmity with one another, previous fealties were cast aside and warriors reformed their loyalties. Although the great daimyo Kiyomasa remained faithful to Hideyoshi, Tadakatsu switched over to the Tokugawa cause, a pivotal move for the Tokugawa forces as they decided to withdraw from the battlefield. It is said that Tadakatsu, who would later be named one of the Four Heavenly Kings of the Tokugawa, was able to halt Toyotomi's army from pursuing his new lord although greatly outnumbered. Yet, Kiyomasa, one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake, challenged his defensive attempt aggressively charging in for an attack. Their equal strength is reflective of the Tiger and Dragon symbology often depicted in Japanese art, and, in fact has been represented as such in other ukiyo-e artworks. Both the strongest entities of their respective terrain, the tiger and dragon symbolises a great battle between fierce adversaries.

The striking poses of the warriors are undoubtedly inherited from Yoshitora's master, Kuniyoshi Utagawa: Kiyomasa lunges forward with his spear whilst Tadakatsu, in a deer antler helmet, dramatically blocks. Soldiers all around watch on as the great rivals face off in the mountain range.

Yoshitora Utagawa

Yoshitora Utagawa was a woodblock print artist active towards the end of the 19th century in Japan. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), neither his date of birth nor date of death is known. Yoshitora was a pupil of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1798-1861), however, he was expelled due to artistic differences. He went on his own path and changed his artist name to Mosai, producing prints of warriors, kabuki actors, beautiful women, and foreigners in particular (Yokohama-e).

The limited contact with the West imposed by the Japanese regime in the Edo period (1603-1868) created endless curiosity that artists were eager to satisfy, although the situations they imagined were sometimes far from being accurate. It is evident from these prints that the Japanese were fascinated by the clothing, the strange habits and the occupations of the foreigners.

For much of the Edo period Japan adopted a sakoku (closed country) policy. Sakoku was a system in which strict regulations were placed on commerce and foreign relations by the shogunate and certain feudal domains. Trade was limited, except for the port of Nagasaki where the Dutch and Chinese were the only ones allowed to operate. In 1859 the port of Yokohama was opened to foreigners, and ukiyo-e artists, primarily of the Utagawa school, produced hundreds of woodblock print designs in response to a general curiosity about the newly arrived visitors.

Yoshitora was a leading designer of these prints and he also produced a number of landscapes derived from Western engraving. In the Meiji period that began in 1868 he also worked for newly established newspapers.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistYoshitora Utagawa
SubjectSamurai & Male
Dimensions(L) 25.5 x 36.9 (C) 25 x 36.9 (R) 25 x 36.8 cm
Condition ReportSome pinholes. Left panel slightly browned. Minor wormholes.
PublisherKiya Sojiro