Tokiwa Gozen

Maker(s): Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Culture: Japanese (1797-1861)
Title: Tokiwa Gozen, from the series Kenjo reppu den [Lives of Wise and Heroic Women]
Date Made: 1841-42
Type: Print
Materials: Woodcut; Colored ink on paper; woodblock print
Place Made: Asia; Japan
Measurements: Mat: 24 in x 20 in; 61 cm x 50.8 cm; Sheet/Image: 14 5/16 in x 9 13/16 in; 36.4 cm x 24.9 cm Accession Number: MH 1973.327.Q.RII
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Louis C. Black

As is seen here, not all ukiyo-e prints fell into the typical subject matters of the fleeting world but instead allowed the viewer a glimpse into history and folklore. For Kuniyoshi, the reason for depicting historical subject matter came in the form of censorship; at the time he was active, the Japanese government had placed a ban on the depiction of “commoner” pleasure activities. In this print from his series “Lives of Wise and Heroic Women”, Tokiwa Gozen of the Minamoto Clan is the main figure. She is depicted fleeing with her three sons during the destruction of their home by the Taira Clan in the Heji War. Her historic prestige comes from her self-sacrifice in surrendering to her husbands’ killer and becoming his concubine in order to save her three sons. Ushiwaka, her youngest son, who is depicted in the print as a small stroke of blue in his mother’s arms ends up avenging the Minamoto Clan due to her previous heroic actions. Other striking details in this print include the rippling of her garments as the wind whips through them and the the three cranes in flight, mirroring the future safety of the children.

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