About the Art
In a swift flowing movement, Okano Kin’emon Kanehide draws one of his swords and fends off a thrown bouquet. Pictured in a bold graphic kimono and chainmail, with details in exquisite rust and teal.
This dynamic print comes from "Stories of the True Loyalty of the Faithful Samurai", and is from the last series of prints created by Kunisada before his death the following year. The piece belongs to a series of kabuki prints that are ordered in the Kana alphabet, this one being the syllable "E". If you look above Okano’s sword, you can see a yellow rhombus with the Kana symbol inside. Each print in the series references a kabuki actor in his role, and this play is adapted from the story of the 47 Ronin.
As the tale goes, in 1702 Kira Kozukensuke aggravated Lord Asano of Ako, triggering him to draw his sword. But, being in the shogun’s palace, this was seen as incredibly dishonouring, so Asano was forced to take his own life. This meant that Asano’s 47 retainers became Ronin – samurai without masters – who then pledged to avenge their leader. A year later, the Ronin attacked Kira’s palace and decapitated him. They took his head to Asano’s grave, to restore his honour, and then promptly took their own lives. This piece is a typical 'mitate-e'; a ukiyo-e technique that layers many meanings, ideas, symbols and narratives usually for humorous effect. An obvious example here is of the bouquet that tangles Okano. Flowers would traditionally have filled the palace, and this decorative bouquet ensnares Okano and his sword as he draws it, suggesting a mockery of palace life.
Kunisada was the most prolific and successful ukiyo-e master of the late Edo period. He spent many years honing his yakusha-e skills; perfectly capturing poses, facial expressions and expressive movements, and even setting societal trends. Later in his life he began recording his age alongside his signature on the prints, this particular piece having been designed at the age of 79. He produced somewhere between 20,000-25,000 designs in his lifetime, and this is the last series he would ever make.
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