Japanese prints of the XVIII –XIX century from the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts






warrior pictures

Ukiyo-e are popular pictures of the everyday life of the urban class in the Edo period. Originally the word ukiyo was used to designate one of the Buddhist categories and could be translated as "world of misery" or "world of sorrow". At the end of the 17th century ukiyo came to mean the modern world, the world of earthly joys and pleasure. The creation of Japanese ukiyo-e prints reached its heyday at the end of the 18th century. The main figures in ukiyo-e prints came to be representatives of the third estate: courtesans, actors, sumo wrestlers, characters from Japanese plays and legendary heroes.

The warrior picture genre is the one linked most closely with the literary tradition, which from medieval times had preserved colourful descriptions of legendary warriors, their lives and famous battles. Key scenes described in the numerous gunki narratives were recorded earlier on hand-painted scrolls devoted to specific warriors and also on screens bearing scenes of great battles. These scenes are also found as illustrations in illustrated books (e-hon) and later in kabuki plays. While in the 18th century actors were usually portrayed in warrior roles, in prints from the beginning of the 19th century after the introduction of censors' edicts prohibiting the depiction of actors and courtesans, portraits of warriors took precedence.

This genre was promoted in all manner of ways by the Tokugawa ruling dynasty, because it served to propagate neo-Confucian values supported by the shogunate. Apart from battle scenes, a type of biography-portrait became widespread, in which there would be a lengthy text next to the portrait of the warrior describing his life.

One of the most famous artists, who worked in the musha-e genre, was Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who as a result came to be known as musha-e no Kuniyoshi, or "Kuniyoshi of the warrior prints".