The 47 Ronin: The Faithful Samurai
 
 
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This is a very rare and beautiful print, representing and unusual genre of prints called ukie; for these ukie works, artists utilized a Western method of linear perspective that was introduced to Japan at that time. This Western method of perspective drawing revealed a “natural view”, which was the primary method of perspective employed in ukie.
Previously traditional Japanese views had utilized an axonometric viewpoint which explained “the action in a scene but did not necessarily “show” it in any realistic form. The new ukie prints – literally floating print – revealed an almost miraculous scene of space that was sometimes further enhanced by special contraptions of frames and lenses.
          In this print Toyokuni represents one of eleven scenes in a series of prints illustrating The Chushingura, the great revenge tragedy that animated the lives of Edo townspeople via prints, dramas, plays, poems books and novels.
          This is the eleventh act that takes place in Moronao’s villa.
In the final act, the 47 abandoned samurai (ronin) under the direction of Yuranosuke carry out their plans for revenge and attack Moronao’s vill at night. The nocturnal attack – hence stars in the deep black sky – further emphasises the space. The 47 ronin are all dressed in the same way and carry a piece of cloth with one kana syllable on each. They kill Moronao and bring his head to the grave of their former Lord: Enya Hangan.

Toyokuni has created a simple box like window which opens onto a single point perspective drawing of the angular villa complex. He has used classic western technique throughout, opening up the right-hand side to even greater complexities of drawing. Within this complex grid, Toyokuni suspends dozens of fighting figures, each obeying the diminishing laws of perspective, some… especially the upside down figure in the foreground also owing their design to western, European precedents.

          This is a really important print. The series is extremely scarce. The print is one of the first Japanese art works to truly master western perspective and led Toyokuni to establish the Utagawa School that was to dominate the whole of the 19th century art scene in Japan and became a major influence on art and design across Europe and America.

Collections:  MAK, Vienna

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