Ii no Hayata Killing a Nue in the Imperial Palace, 1890
Ink on Paper
14 1/2 in. x 9 7/8 in. (368.3 mm x 250.83 mm)
Note: X (p.38-9) of "Yoshitoshi's Thirty-six Ghosts."
On mat, in pencil: Marer 451, exhib. 11/95, Thirty-six Ghost Stories. Artist's seal: Yoshitoshi. Signed: Yoshitoshi. Carver: Chokuzan to.
Colored ink woodblock on paper; oban.
Meiji period Japanese color woodblock print with an image of a warrior battling a monster.
In the summer of 1153 the emperor was suffering from inflammation of the eyes and complained that he could not sleep because of screams and violent scratching on the roof of the palace. Sentries were posted, but all they could report was a black cloud that regularly descended onto the roof at midnight. As commander of the palace guards, Minamoto no Yorimasa was called on to solve the mystery. He stationed himself outside the palace, waited until he heard a cry, then shot an arrow with all his strength in its direction, knocking off the roof the strangest creature anyone there had ever seen. It had a monkey's head, a badger's body, a tiger's legs and a snake for a tail, and it was as big as a horse. This creature is called a nue, literally a kind of blackbird which is active at night and thus considered a bird of ill omen in Japan.
The monster was far from dead, and it was left to Yorimasa's retainer, Ii no Hayata, to dispatch it. He attacked with a dagger, and there followed a struggle in which Hayata's hat was bitten by the head of the snake-tail (not depicted in this print). The creature was killed, whereupon the emperor recovered.
The wild action is controlled here by Yoshitoshi's tight composition. Mystery is added by a background of dark clouds that resemble weird flying birds. The details of Hayata's face and armor are beautifully delineated, each square inch of printing packed with detail. Yorimasa's arrow protrudes from the nue's throat.
Yorimasa has historically received credit for the exploit and at the time was rewarded with a famous swordd and a court maid-of-honor. It is typical of Yoshitoshi that, by portraying Hayata's role instead of Yorimasa's, he gives a fresh twist to a well-known story. Another example occurs in his One Hundred Aspects of the Moon where he depicts a villain's chief retainer [Kobayashi Heihachiro] in heroic stance, single-handedly facing those exemplary heroes, the Forty-seven Ronin.
(John Stevenson, Yoshitoshi's Thirty-Six Ghosts, New York: Weatherhill, 1983.)
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