The series Dai Nippon Meisho Kagami, "Mirrors of Famous Commanders of Japan", is among the popular ones of Yoshitoshi. The artist designed it between 1876 and 1880. It was the time when he finally found public recognition and commercial success - after years of poverty and sheer struggle for survival.
First Publication: April 2003
Latest Update: July 2013
The total series consists of 51 panels and a cover page. Each panel depicts a famous military and or political leader from Japan's past - with a few exceptions like the last print showing the goddess of sun.
Some of the characters are rather legendary like empress Jingu or Takenouchi Sukune (Takeuchi no Sukune), who allegedly became 280 years old. Many of the heroic figures are from Japan's turmoiled times of the Genpei wars, when the powerful clans of the Fujiwara, Taira and Minamato fought for supremacy in Japan in the 12th century. Many other scenes show leaders and events from the times of the civil wars in the 16th century.
The cover page lists the names of 51 famous, Japanese personalities and historical or legendary figures.
The series was a great commercial success. At the time, when Dai Nippon Meisho Kagami was published, Japan was under the impression of the events of the Satsuma rebellion - a last uprise of the old Samurai forces against radical Meiji reforms. It looks like the Satsuma rebellion stirred an interest of the public in images of military and historic events.
At the same time a new national pride and self-confidence developed after the humiliating, forced opening of the country by a US fleet of 1853 and 1854. The Meiji reforms were about to catapult the country to new industrial and military standards. As in Western countries like England, France or Germany, a sense of nationalism and imperialism developed.
This general political background was a good commercial basis for a print series that glorified Japan's past.
The print series was published by Kumagai (the first 11 panels) and Funazu Chujiro between 1876 and 1882. The block carvers were Hori Mino and Horiko Ota Hedekatsu. All prints are in Oban size and in tate-e format (vertical portrait format).
As with all successful print series, the quality of impressions differs widely. Early editions are fine, but with increasing numbers of copies the blocks get worn off and impression quality comes down. Another issue that collectors should be aware of, are color problems. The aniline colors used for early Meiji prints were not the best (.. they came from Germany, by the way). They can bleed (especially the red) or change color due to oxidizing.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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