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Kuniyoshi

Taira no Kiyomori Encountering the Ghost of Yoshihira at Nunobiki Falls (1843)

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About the Art

"Minamoto no Yoshihira (1140-60) was only fifteen when he earned the nickname "Wicked Genta of Kamakura", by murdering his uncle Yoshikata and other relatives.

In 1159, at the age of nineteen, Yoshihira left Kamakura to join his father in Kyoto, where they fought together against Taira no Shigemori. They were defeated and fled. His father was assassinated soon after.

Yoshihira went back to Kyoto to seek revenge, disguised as a peasant.

However, he was recognized, captured, and taken before Shigemori's father, Kiyomori, for judgment. Kiyomori was delighted at his good fortune and ordered Yoshihira's immediate execution by Namba. Yoshihira was led away to Nunobiki Waterfall, where Namba cut him down with a sword.

Yoshihira's body sprang into the air, taking the form of the Thunder God beating his drums. A violent thunderstorm rocked the sky, and Namba was killed in an explosive flash of lightning."

- Quoted from: Yoshitoshi's Thirty-Six Ghosts by John Stevenson, p. 56.

In the early 1820s, Kuniyoshi began designing panoramic triptychs where he could let the full drama of his scenes explode across the sheets.

Here, we see the moment when the monochrome ghost of Yoshihira rises up on a ball of flames, channels the thunder god and strikes down his enemies and his own executioner. Thunder bolts crack all around in an explosive display of chaotic revenge.

The dramatic stance of the central figure, with hands outstretched, is drawn from Kabuki theater, which often inspired Kuniyoshi's drawings.

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