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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

(R) Iwai Shijaku I as Inuzuka Keno Tanetomo & (L) Nakamura Shikan II as Inuta Kobungo Yasuyori in a mitate of the Satomi hakkenden; Series: Satomi hakkenshi no uchi ikko
Shunkôsai Hokuei ga
Artist seal: No seal
Honsei (Honya Seishichi: 本屋清七)
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
37.1 x 52.0 cm
Very good color and good condition, unbacked; four tiny filled wormholes, some rubbing along edges, trimmed
(see *note below)
Price (USD/¥):

This series of prints by Hokuei, Satomi hakkenshi no uchi ikko (One of Eight Loyal Dogs of Satomi: 里見八犬子之内一個), was inspired by Kyokutei (or Takizawa) Bakin's (1767-1848) epic yomihon novel (讀本 or 読本) Nansô Satomi Hakkenden ("The Tale of the 8 Loyal Dogs of the House of Satomi": 南總里見八犬傳), written and published serially (106 volumes!) over many years (1814-1842). Bakin lost his sight before he finished the tale and was forced to dictate the final volumes to his daughter-in-law Michi.

The saga celebrates nine generations of a fictional clan, the Satomi, especially the exploits of eight samurai, each representing a particular Confucian virtue (in order of their appearance in the drama): (孝) - filial piety or devotion; gi (義) - duty and obligation; chû (忠) - loyalty; shin (信) - faith; tei (悌) - brotherhood; jin (仁) - sympathy and benevolence; chi (知) - wisdom;and rei (礼) - courtesy). Their names are distinctive, each including the character for inu or "dog" (犬), derived from their mother Fusehime, who had given birth to the children of a demonic dog that had brought her father the head of one of his enemies. The brothers are scattered in different parts of Awa province, but are recognizable by their names, peony birthmarks (the mon or crest of the Satomi clan), and beads, each containing a kanji character for the respective eight virtues cited earlier. The brothers, corresponding in order of the virtues shown above, are: Inuzuka Shino Moritaka (犬塚 信乃 戍孝); Inukawa Sôsuke Yoshitô (犬川 荘助 義任); Inuyama Dôsetsu Tadatomo (犬山 道節 忠與); Inukai Genpachi Nobumichi (犬飼 現八 信道); Inuta Kobungo Yasuyori (犬田 小文吾 悌順); Inue Shimbei Masashi (犬江 親兵衛 仁); Inuzaka Keno Tanetomo (犬阪 毛野 胤智); and Inumura Daikaku Masanori (犬村 大角 礼儀).

The popular theaters, bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽) and kabuki, staged many adaptations of Bakin's tale, called as a class Satomi hakkenden mono ("Plays about the Eight Loyal Dogs of Satomi": 里見八犬傳物). Osaka was the first city to dramatize the story in a play called Kinkazan yuki no akebono in 1834.


HKE52 detail 1HKE52 detail 2

The term mitate (lit., "look and compare": 見立) in this context indicates that the composition was not published for a specific kabuki production.

In 1833-34, Hokuei designed several diptychs in which the agitated drawing of waves (reminiscent of the Edo master Katsushika Hokusai and other earlier Edo artists) animated the scenes. These are among Hokuei's more memorable "action pictures." Our example is from the slightly altered state with additional (darker) birds printed in the sky.

*Note: This design seems always to have trimming into the cartouche on the left-hand sheet. We have recently found an impression of the left sheet that retains its color-block margins (see details at left and right), indicating that the lines of the cartouche were carved too close to the edge of the original keyblock. Notice that the red color block in the left-hand detail does not extend to the edge, nor does the blue color-block in the right-hand detail. Thus virtually all the left-hand sheets for this design are found at least slightly trimmed into the cartouche.

References: IBKYS-II, no. 305; WAS I-4, no. 489; KNP-6, p. 264; IKB-I, p. 98; NKE, p. 556