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Yoshitoshi Woodblock Print, Chikubushima Moon, 1886


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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Woodblock Prints: Pre 1900: Item # 419842

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Chikubushima Moon - Tsunemasa (Chikubushima no Tsuki - Tsunemasa). Printed: 3.1886. Engraver: Yamamoto. Signature: Yoshitoshi. Seal: Taiso. Publisher: Akiyama Buemon. Format: Oban tate-e. H. 12.75 x W. 8.75". Condition: Very Good impression and colors. Retains albimbacking. No condition issues to note. This print is also set in the battle between the Taira and the Minamoto clans. One of the Taira leaders, Taira no Tsunemasa was a notable warrior and a fine musician, a combination not uncommon for a military man in the Heian period. While camping near Lake Biwa, northeast of Kyoto, Tsunemasa saw a beautiful island in the distance and learned that it was Chikubushima (Chikubu Island,) and that it held a famous shrine dedicated to the goddess Benten. Visiting the island with his generals to pray for victory, Tsunemasa is asked by the shrine priest to play a biwa, 4-stringed lute. His beautiful playing under a bright moon moves the goddess of the shrine to appear in the form of a white dragon above his shoulder who promises him victory. Unfortunately, the Taira are eventually defeated, and Tsunemasa killed. The story lives on though in the Noh play, Chikubushima, and his lute was enshrined in his memory. He plays here in deep concentration, sitting on a bearskin, with a tiger skin scabbard covering his sword. The cloth cover of the biwa strangely hangs from a pine branch, perhaps suggesting the dragon apparition of Benten. [ref: Stevenson, #28]. Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892. His given name was Yonejiro, and he became a student of the great ukiyo-e artist, Kuniyoshi, at the age of eleven. In 1853, the same year that Commodore Perry’s fleet arrived in Japan, Yoshitoshi composed his first woodblock print, a triptych of the Minamoto and Taira naval battle at Dannoura. His life and prints often mirrored the political turmoil and cultural upheaval besieging Japan in the late 1800's. He is often remembered by his prints featuring bloody and gruesome scenes. However, one of his last series, “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon,” also showed the artist’s talent and innovation. The Moon series exhibited not only technical skill and artistic creativity, but also the pinnacle of Yoshitoshi’s career in terms of emotional maturity. An excellent resource for information on the Moon series, and on the life of Yoshitoshi, is John Stevenson’s “Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon” (Hotei Publishing, 2001.)