Auction SOSAKU HANGA AND JAPANESE PRINTS - 1512 - ending in 3 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes and 0 seconds.

Dai Nippon Meisho Kagami

Item # 39647 Mirrors of Famous Generals of Japan - Benkei and Yoshitsune
From the series "Dainippon Meisho Kagami" ("Mirrors of the Famous Generals of Great Japan"). Ushiwakamaru (later known as Yoshitsune) and Benkei are fighting on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. The mighty priest-warrior, Musashibo Benkei, is trying hard to strike agile Yoshitsune in vain. At last, he surrendered and became one of the loyal followers of Yoshitsune. They are the most beloved heroes in Japanese legends and numerous kabuki plays and ukiyo-e have depicted them.
By Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (Taiso) 1839-1892

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.

Mirror of Famous Commanders of Japan

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.

A Successful Print Series

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.

Information for Collectors

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.

51 Woodblock Prints

  1. Yamato Takeru no Mikoto
  2. Takenouchi Sukune
  3. Sakanoue Tamuramaro - 751-811
  4. Minamoto no Raiko (Yorimitsu) - 944-1021 and Shuten-doji
  5. Minamoto no Yorioshi - 995-1082
  6. Hachiman Taro Yoshiie (Minamato no Yoshiie) - 1041-1108
  7. Udaisho Minamato no Yoritomo - 1147-1199
  8. Nitta Yoshisada - 1301-1338
  9. Taira no Kiyomori - 1118-1181
  10. Toyotomi Hideyoshi - 1537-1598 and Kato Kiyomasa
  11. Tokugawa Iyeasu - 1542-1616
  12. Gensani Yorimasa (Minamato Yorimasa) - 1106-1180
  13. Hojo Tokiyori - 1226-1263
  14. Taira no Shigemori - 1138-1179
  15. Yoshitsune (1159-1189) and Benkei
  16. Takeda Harunobu - 1521-1573
  17. Oda Nobunaga - 1534-1582
  18. Ashikaga Takauji - 1305-1358
  19. Kusonoki Masashige - 1294-1336
  20. Uesugi no Terutora Nyudo Kenshin - 1530-1578
  21. Tokugawa Iemitsu - 1603-1651
  22. Shotoku Taishi - 572-612
  23. Nakatomi no Kamatari, Naka-no-Oe-no-Oji and Uruka Daijin - in 645
  24. Minamato no Tsunemoto - 894-961
  25. Minamato no Yorinobu - 968-1048
  26. Minamato no Yoshimitsu - 1056-1127
  27. Minamato no Yoshitomo - 1123-1160
  28. Minamato no Tametomo - 1139-1170
  29. Ashikaga Yoshimasa - 1435-1490
  30. Otomo no Sadehiko and his wife Sayohime - in 536
  31. Taira no Sadamori and Taira no Masakado - 901-940
  32. Hojo Yasutoki - 1183-1242
  33. Hojo Ujiyasu - 1515-1570
  34. Taira no Koremochi
  35. Ashikaga Yoshimitsu - 1358-1408
  36. Susanoo no Mikoto
  37. Emperor Jimmu
  38. Michinoomi no mikoto
  39. Saohime, wife of Emperor Suinen
  40. The ghost of Tamichi
  41. Otomo no Kanemura - in 498
  42. Abe no Hirafu - in 658
  43. Sakanoue no Karitamaro - 728-786
  44. Fumiya no Watamaro - 763-821
  45. Ono no Yoshifuru Ason - 888-968
  46. Tawara Toda or Fujiwara no Hidesato with Emperor Suzaku - 931-946
  47. Minamato no Mitsunaka - 912-997
  48. Minamato no Tameyoshi - 12th century
  49. Taifubo Kakumyo and Kiso Yoshinaka - 1154-1184
  50. Mori Motonari - 1497-1571
  51. Sun Goddess Amaterasu omikami

Literature sources

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura