The historical Minamoto no Yorimasa (1104-1180) served eight different sovereigns in his long career, holding posts such as hyôgo no kami (head of the arsenal). He was also a prominent poet whose works appeared in various anthologies. In 1179 he entered the Buddhist priesthood and took the name Gen Sanmi Nyûdô.
Although he had allied himself with the Taria clan against the Minamoto during the Hôgen no ran (Hôgen civil war; 1156-59) and the Heiji no ran (Heiji civil war; 1160), he switched allegiance and led the Minamoto forces against the Taira in 1180. Suffering defeat at Uji, he committed suicide in the Byôdô Temple.
Yorimasa nue monogatari (Tale of Yorimasa and the nue: 頼政鵺物語) features the legend of Yorimasa, who is forever associated with slaying the mythical Nue in 1153 — as recorded in the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike; first quarter 13th century). Yorimasa, who was a formidable archer, spied on the emperor's palace roof a strange winged-creature with an ape's head, tiger's claws, badger's (tanuki) back, and snake-head tail. As the emperor was suffering from a life-threatening illness, Yorimasa suspected that the Nue was the cause. A single arrow took down the beast, whereupon Yorimasa's retainer (Ino Hayata Tadazumi) delivered the coup de grâce with his sword.
Yorimasa's headgear is called a hikitate eboshi ("bird-hat pulled upright"), one of the pliable hats worn by samurai. Dressed in battle-ready armor yet adorned with elegant robes, he sports a sword scabbard covered in tiger's fur (the yellow and black striped fur barely visible behind his blue robe on the far left). Yorimasa holds the bow and arrow that he will use to bring down the nue. Behind him we can see swirling gray and black wind patterns, presumably signaling the presence of a supernatural being, the Nue.
This is one of Sadanobu's more dramatic designs in chûban format, and one that is not often available for acquisition. The intricately printed patterns on the robes are particularly impressive, enhanced by the liberal use of metallic pigments.
References: HSH, no. 161