Yoshikazu: Yorimitsu and his Retainers Slaying the Earth Spider, Tsuchigomo (SOLD)
Artist: Utagawa Yoshikazu (active 1848-1870)
Title: Picture of Yorimitsu’s Brave Retainers, The Four Heavenly Kings Slaying Tsuchigumo, Spider Monster (Yorimitsu no shin shitenno no góketsu Tsuchigumo (or dochi) taiji no zu)
Minamoto no Yorimitsu (Raiko) and his retainers confront the terrible, yellow-eyed Earth Spider (Tsuchigumo) in its cave beneath the earth. In this dramatic composition, the four hero warriors of Minamoto no Yorimitsu attack the monster spider in the center from the both sides: from the right Watanabe no Tsuna (953-1025), bearing the title of Guard at Takiguchi Post in the Seiro Palace (Takiguchi no u-toneri) and Sakata Kintoki (950-1012), bearing the title of Aide for the Main Chamber (Aruji tsubone no suke). From the left Usui no Sadamitsu (954-1021), bearing the title of Officer at Palace Gate (yugei-shó), Urabe no Suetake (950-1022), bearing the title of Judge of Administration (Kageyu no hangan). The expression of “Four Heavenly Kings" (Shitenno) refers to the four guardians of the Buddhist law.
Watanabe no Tsuna holds up the large torch, Sakata Kintoki, half-naked, carries a large tree with his superhuman strength, Usui no Sadamitsu pulls the radially spreading spider webs, and Urabe no Suetake holds the famous sword hizamaru, which was entrusted to him by Yorimitsu.
They are depicted all in their tucked haori coats in vivid colors with their family crests: Watanabe with "Watanabe Stars" (hoshi) on yellow, Sakata with (kage shippo) on black, Usui, with "Genji wheel" (kuruma) on blue, and Urabe with a variation of bellflowers (kikyo) on purple. This theme was one of the favorite subjects among Ukiyo-e artists, especially the school of Kuniyoshi, the teacher of Yoshikazu.
It was the time of mid-Heian Period (Heian Period 794-1185) when the protagonists of this print were active, serving the Imperial Palace in Heian (Kyoto). It was the time the Imperial House was the nominal head of the country and the Fujiwara Clan had the actual power. Professional warriors were forming and rising slowly around the members of the court aristocracy, connecting to the Imperial Court, which did not possess its own army, so the local power holders became the primary source of the military. Among them the Fujiwara, Taira, and Minamoto Clans were the most prestigious families, all of whom had descended from the Imperial families, claiming the control over the vast tracts of conquered land.
Minamoto no Yorimitsu (or Raiko) (948-1021) served the regents of the Fujiwara Clan and was one of the earliest historical figures for the military exploits; he was also known for quelling the bandits of Mt. Óe and other monstrous creatures which troubled the people.
According to legend, Yorimitsu was suffering from a high fever, which was caused by the tsuchigumo, monster spider, which appeared at his bedside. He wounded the spider with his famous sword named hizamaru, which had been made at the request of the Emperor of Japan, by a smith rival of the sword “Missing Sun“ (Tachi Sun-Nashi) maker. The wounded spider disappeared. Tracing back the blood stains of the spider, the four retainers reached the cave on Mt. Yamato Katsuragi in Nara. There the fighting took place as the print depicts.
(With thanks to Ms. Michiko Sato-Grube for her scholarship and translation here.)
Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Exceptionally fine example.
Dimensions: ôban triptych 25 x 35.5 cm
Publisher: Yamashiro-ya Kanbei
Signature: Ichijusai Yoshikazu