Utagawa Ichinsai Kunihide (歌川一運齋秀) is known for only a few musha-e (warrior prints: 武者絵) and sensô-e (war prints: 戦争絵) published during the mid-1890s (possibly for a brief three years in 1894-96). He may have used another art name, Baidô (). Abandoning ukiyo-e design, he moved to Numazu (沼津) in central Japan. Once there, he apparently eked out a living painting tako (kites: 凧), while also producing a large number of excellent Buddhist paintings for shrines, and many ema (絵馬), votive paintings offered at temples and shrines in thanks for answered prayers or for taking vows. His grave is located at the Myogaku Temple in Shimogawara, Numazu.
Kunihide worked in the same stylistic manner as many of his contemporaries who also designed musha-e and sensô-e, such as Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912), Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), Ogata Gekkô (1859-1920), Migita Toshihide (1863-1925), Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908), Watanabe Nobukazu (1872-1944), and Adachi Ginkô (act. c. 1870-1897). Moreover, the brilliant Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92) had an impact on the work of Kunihide and most of these other artists. No doubt, the approaches taken by the carvers and printers of the 1890s were factors determining the appearance of numerous warrior prints of the period.
Kunihide's triptych is titled Shinsen meiyo kagami (A mirror of newly selected heroes: 新撰名誉鏡). The action is set during the Nanboku-chô period (南北朝時代), 1336 to 1392, when a Northern Imperial Court was established by Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏 1305-1358) in Kyoto, and a Southern Imperial Court by Emperor Go-Daigo (後醍醐天皇, 1288-1339, r. 1318-1339) in Yoshino. The two courts fought periodically for fifty years until the Southern Court surrendered in 1392, although, in reality, the Northern imperial line was already under the power of the Ashikaga shogunate and had little real independence.
The principal figure in the triptych is the Southern-Court warrior Nawa Nagataka (名和長生). While Nagataka's cousin Nawa Nagatoshi (名和長年) deployed his men to protect the emperor, Nagataka commanded troops against the Ashikaga army in Kyoto. The Ashikaga attacked the southern forces near the temporary Imperial residence (angô 行宮) at Otokoyama (男山) in southern Kyoto, Yamashiro province (山城國), where Nagataka's soldiers fought valiantly. He is shown here having leaped from his horse and thrown off his armor after one of his generals has fallen. Lifting his sword high above his head as he slices through incoming arrows, Nagataka glares defiantly at the silhouettes of the Ashikaga, readying himself for the enemy's onslaught as seemingly countless arrows rain down upon him.
The preservation of this triptych is excellent, with strong colors and large intact margins along the top and left sides.