Sadanobu Threatening a Demon in the Palace at Night, 1889
Ink on Paper
14 1/2 in. x 9 15/16 in. (368.3 mm x 252.41 mm)
Note: I (p.20-21) of "Yoshitoshi's Thirty-six Ghosts." Sadanobu defends the palace: The 10th century courtier Fujiwara Tadahira, also called Sadanobu, was on his way to Emperor Suzaku's chambers when a demon grabbed the end of his sword. Sadanobu stood firm, and the creature scurried away. This image is the same as 93.3.35.
On mat, in pencil: Marer 438, exhib. 11/93, Thirty-six Ghost Stories. Description on verso of mat. Artist's seal: Taiso. Signed: Yoshitoshi.
Colored ink woodblock on paper; oban.
Sadanobu was a prominent Heian nobleman; he is more commonly known as Fujiwara no Tadahira. From the seventh to the eleventh centuries the Fujiwara were the most powerful family in Japan, self-confident and assured of their political pre-eminencee. The empress and most of the chief officials at the Heian court were chosen from the ranks sof the Fujiwara clan. Tadahira served the emperor for forty years during the first half of the tenth century and was considered a decisive and able minister.
A typical story told of Tadahira is recounted in the thirteenth-century history book Okagami. It relates an incident that occurred one evening toward the beginning of his career, when he was hurrying to an appointment at the imperial palace in Kyoto. In the darkness of the outer approaches to the palace he felt something grab hold of his sword. Reaching back, he felt the thick hairy arm and knifelike fingernails of a large demon. He concealed his alarm and seized the offending wrist, shouting that he was going to the palace on the emperor's business and that it would be unwise for anyone to interfere. Surprised at Tadahira's apparent lack of fear, the demon broke free and fled.
The creature in the print is formidible, not like the small oni who harassed Tadahira's Chinese counterpart, Chung Kuei. He is awkwardly drawn, however, muscle-bound and with one leg longer than the other; he is not Yoshitoshi's most successful illustration of a demon.
Tadahira's face is dignified and strong. He is rather heavily whiskered, a convention Yoshitoshi often uses to suggest determination and martial strength. Tadahira wears the ceremonial headdress of his office, derived from the uniform of the Tang Chinese court whose every custom the Heian court studiously copied. His robes have a wonderful black-on-black pattern that catches the light when the print is turned. This effect was obtained by placing the printed sheet on a block bearing the required pattern engraved in relief, then polishing the black surface with the curved edge of a boar's tusk. The technique is called shomen-zuri.
(John Stevenson, Yoshitoshi's Thirty-Six Ghosts, New York: Weatherhill, 1983.)
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