Yoshitora Utagawa, Determined Retainers in the Snowy Night, Forty-seven Ronin
Artist: Yoshitora Utagawa (a.c.1830-1880)
Title: Determined Retainers in the Snowy Night（忠臣雪夜志 ちゅうしんいさぎよし）
Size: (L)35.7 x 25 (C)35.7 x 25 (R)35.8 x 24.7 cm
Original Japanese woodblock print.
Kanadehon Chushingura, the story of fourty 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 rōnin, or masterless warriors. Thereafter, the rōnin 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.
|Artist Name||Yoshitora Utagawa|
|Title||Determined Retainers in the Snowy Night|
|Subject||Samurai & Male|
|Dimensions||(L)35.7 x 25 (C)35.7 x 25 (R)35.8 x 24.7 cm|
|Condition Report||Worn-out, wormholes, creases, light stains, tears.|
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.