Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, ‘Mirror of Famous Commanders of Great Japan: Sama no to Yoshitomo and Nasada Soshi Kagemune’, ca. 1878, Scholten Japanese Art

signed oju Yoshitoshi hitsu with artist's seal Taiso, published by Funazu Chujiro, ca. 1878

oban tate-e 14 3/4 by 10 in., 37.5 by 25.3 cm

After leading a failed insurrection, the general Sama no to Yoshitomo (1123-1160) took refuge in Owari with his father-in-law, Osada no Shoji Tadamune. Tadamune received him with kindness, but, with his son Nasada Soshi Kagemune, plotted Yoshitomo's death. They concealed three strong retainers by the bath, who would succeed in murdering the general. Yoshitoshi reimagines this scene, adding two additional men to Kagemune's company. Perhaps he intended one to be Kagemune himself.

The composition depicts this frantic episode, with the strong and haphazardly clothed Yoshitomo attempting to fight off the armed men. He fights admirably: one retainer lies debilitated on the floor, while another, back dynamically arched and limbs tangled, is thrust backwards by the general. Two mostly concealed warriors seem to be fighting Yoshitomo as well. A pair of arms grasp at Yoshitomo's chest from behind, and a hand near the left hand margin of the print falls below two kicking legs. Tragically, a fifth warrior stands by the wall, readying himself to deal Yoshitomo a fatal blow.

Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art

Publisher: Funazu Chujiro

Will. H. Edmunds, Pointers and Clues to the Subjects of Chinese and Japanese Art, 1934. p. 678-679
Henri L. Joly, Legends in Japanese Art, 1967. p. 582

About Tsukioka Yoshitoshi