The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

The Faithful Samurai: Kuniyoshi Woodblock Prints

This portrait captures the moment before Yata's sword strikes. 
Yata was a brilliant swordsman, and during the night attack, 
he took on many skilled enemies, killing each of them.

October 26, 2006 – January 7, 2007

This traveling exhibition illustrates one of the most famous stories of revenge in Japanese history, outlining the exploits of the courageous 47 Ronin samurai who avenged the death of their master in the early eighteenth century. Their story, the Chushingura, or “Treasury of Loyal Hearts,” illustrates and defines the Japanese concept of loyalty, providing a supreme example of the samurai ideals of courage, commitment and sacrifice. The exhibition tells this tale through stunning triptychs, warrior prints, and bust portraits by the Japanese printmaker Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861).

Kuniyoshi is the artist most closely associated with the visual history of this samurai legend. Kuniyoshi, who began his career as a textile-dyer, became obsessed with the Chushingura. Similar to other artists of his day, Kuniyoshi mixed the traditional genre of the warrior print with the visual conventions of the kabuki stage. Three of Kuniyoshi’s print series have been chosen for this exhibit. The first series features full-length action portraits of the individual Ronin heroes. The second series depicts the sacrifices and struggles of family members and friends left behind after the tragic events unfolded. The final series presents twelve surprisingly western-style bust portraits of selected Ronin heroes. Throughout his career, Kuniyoshi, an artist whose work portrayed Japanese history and legend, produced more than 1,600 single-sheet prints and 360 triptychs. Of these works, 12 series and 20 triptychs are devoted to the Chushingura.

In addition to the Kuniyoshi woodblock prints, visitors to The Faithful Samurai exhibition experienced an array of artifacts, swords, and costumes. They also enjoyed a display on the techniques of woodblock printing and a description of the Japanese print tradition.