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Japanese swords and heroic ukiyo-e from Boston

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  • THE HEROES
    Chronicles of the Warriors:
    Japanese Swords x Ukiyo-e from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

    21 January – 25 March 2022
    Mori Arts Center Gallery

     

     

    Excessive and extravagant.
    Superbly kitsch and soulfully manga…

    The coming show at the Mori Arts Center Gallery, Roppongi Hills, will shed light on ukiyo-e from a perspective rarely featured as the main theme of exhibit: “musha-e” or literally “picture of warrior(s)”.

    On view are a brilliant selection of Japanese woodblock prints and sword guards (tsuba) depicting heroic figures and their deeds, together with finest Japanese swords from the prime collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

    *In this article, family name equivalents are placed before given names according to the Japanese usage of persons’ names.

     

    Heroic ukiyo-e, Japanese swords from Boston|amuzen

     


    ◆Heroes and superheroes as idols in the mind of commoners

    Before diving into the show, here’s amuzen’s recap of what you need to know about “musha-e.

    The woodblock prints and paintings called “ukiyo-e” grew popular among commoners in Edo, or pre-modern Tokyo since the 17th century.

    Several themes emerged as ukiyo-e genres, such as picturesque scenery, the beauties, kabuki actors, flowers and nature, and also from the late eighteenth century, “musha-e”.

    The latter refers to a whole range of ukiyo-e prints and paintings illustrating warriors and heroes that were cherished by the locals.

    Real or imaginary, these heroic figures come from a variety of repertoire – historical events, myths, legends, folktales and novels. They are samurais, ronins, ghost busters, godly figures, strongman and superman, and occasionally, heroic women.

    People took delight and found solace in these entertaining pictures, sometimes loaded with double entendre in defiance of censorship.

     


    Highlights of THE HEROES exhibit


    ◆Heroic ukiyo-e prints from Boston

    The show features a total of 118 woodblock prints by such masters as Hishikawa Moronobu, Kitao Masayoshi, Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Hiroshige and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi  – all travelling to Japan for the first time from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

     


    ◆Sword guards decorated with heroic art

    Some sword guards (tsuba) are embossed with heroes and heroic scenes familiar to the Japanese. Twenty-seven sword guards decorated with images corresponding to those of ukiyo-e will be on view.

     


    ◆Japanese swords as high art

    The show’s star attractions also include swords as high art.

    A total of twenty most fantastic pieces will be displayed to trace the chronology of Japanese swords from the late Heian period in the 11th century through the end of the Edo period in the late 19th century.

     


    Subjects of heroic ukiyo-e featured in this show

    ● Mythological figures, from Susanoo to heroic emperors

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川国芳
    「武勇見立十二支 辰 素盞雄尊」
    天保13年(1842)頃
    Utagawa Kuniyoshi
    Dragon : Susanoo no mikoto, from the series Heroes Representing the Twelve Animals of the Zodiac
    c. 1842 (Tenpō 13, Edo period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

     


    ● Legendary feats from the Heian period tales (794-1185)

    From Minamoto no Yorimitsu slaying a monstrous tsuchigumo (literally “earth spider”) to Sakata no Kintoki alias Kintaro.

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川国貞
    「渡辺ノ綱 坂田金時 平井保昌 源頼光」
    文化12年(1815)頃
    Utagawa Kunisada I (Utagawa Toyokuni III)
    Watanabe no Tsuna and Sakata no Kintoki Playing Go in a Room with Monsters, with Hirai Yasumasa and Minamoto no Yorimitsu in Background
    c.1815 (Bunka 12, Edo Period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    「土蜘蛛退治図鐔 銘 松涛軒吾竹貞勝」
    明治時代(19世紀)
    Gochiku Sadakatsu
    Tsuba with design of Minamoto no Yorimitsu confronting the Earth Spider
    19th century (Meiji period)
    Charles Goddard Weld Collection

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    勝川春英
    「坂田金時土蜘退治之図」
    文化3年(1806)
    Katsukawa Shun’ei
    Sakata no Kintoki Defeating the Earth Spider
    1806 (Bunka 3, Edo Period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

     


    ● Genpei warriors and Yoshitsune

    Tales of Genpei on the warfare between the feuding Genji (the Minamoto clan) and Heishi (the Taira clan) in the 12th century, together with Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Benkei.

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川国貞
    「武蔵坊弁慶 御曹子牛若丸」文化10-11年(1813-14)頃
    Utagawa Kunisada I (Utagawa Toyokuni III)
    Musashibō Benkei and Onzōshi Ushiwakamaru on Gojō Bridge
    c. 1813-14 (Bunka 10-11, Edo Period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    「橋弁慶図鐔」
    江戸時代(19世紀)
    Tsuba with design of Ushiwakamaru and Benkei fighting on the Gojō Bridge
    19th century (Edo period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

     


    ◆ Story of the Soga brothers

    Scenes from “Soga monogatari” dating to the Kamakura Period (the end of 12th century – 1333)

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川国貞
    「源頼朝公富士之裾野牧狩之図 三枚続」
    文化10年(1813)頃
    Utagawa Kunisada I (Utagawa Toyokuni III)
    Lord Minamoto no Yoritomo’s Hunt at the Foot of Mount Fuji, a Triptych
    c. 1813 (Bunka 10, Edo Period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

     


    ◆ The Taiheiki, a 14th century chronicle

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川国貞
    「大森彦七」
    文政11-13年(1828-30)頃
    Utagawa Kunisada I (Utagawa Toyokuni III)
    Ōmori Hikoshichi
    c. 1828–30 (Bunsei 11-13, Edo Period)
    Bequest of Maxim Karolik

     


    ◆ Battles of Kawanakajima (1553 -1564)

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川国芳
    「川中島信玄謙信旗本大合戦之図」
    弘化2年(1845)頃
    Utagawa Kuniyoshi
    The Great Battle of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin and Their Retainers at Kawanakajima
    c. 1845 (Kōka 2, Edo Period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

     


    ◆Protagonists of epic adventures

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    卍楼北鵞
    「椿説弓張月 巻中略図 山雄(狼ノ名也) 主のために蟒蛇を噛んで山中に骸を止む」
    天保11年(1840)頃
    Manjirō Hokuga
    Illustration from the Book Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki: The Wolf Yamao Attacks a Giant Serpent on Behalf of His Master and Leaves His Bones in the Mountains
    c.1840 (Tenpō 11, Edo Period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川国芳
    「本朝水滸伝剛勇八百人一個 宮本無三四」
    天保4-6年(1833-35)頃
    Utagawa Kuniyoshi
    Miyamoto Musashi, from the series Eight Hundred Heroes of the Japanese Shuihuzhuan
    c. 1833-35 (Tenpō 4-6, Edo Period)
    Bequest of Maxim Karolik

    ボストン美術館所蔵「THE HEROES」展 |あみゅーぜん

    歌川広重
    「英勇五人傑 宮本無三四」
    弘化4-嘉永元年(1847-48)頃
    Utagawa Hiroshige
    Miyamoto Musashi, from the series Five Heroic Men
    c. 1847–48 (Kōka 4 – Kaei 1, Edo Period)
    William Sturgis Bigelow Collection


    ALL Photographs Ⓒ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

* The above is the information known at the time of publication and subject to change without prior notice.

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