Sugawara no Michinaze in Exile: Masanobu and Toyokuni

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Posted by Philippe Callier on June 14, 1999 at 04:57:08:

I noticed two very similar prints representing Sugawara no Michinaze in exile. The first one is by Masanobu (c.1690-1766), the second by Toyokuni I (1769-1825). Both represent Michinaze sitting under a pine and a cherry tree, in court dress, looking to the left of the viewer (The Masanobu print is illustrated in Raymond Johnes, Japanese Art, Marboro Books, New York, 1961, plate 42). The composition is almost identical in the two prints. The Toyokuni print shows the Kae-mon of the actor Nakamura Sukegoro II (according to Binyon & O'Brien Sexton, Mon # 95). I believe the Masanobu print shows the same Mon, but the picture is not clear enough for me to be sure. As the actor was active between 1761 and 1798, it is of course possible that both Masanobu and Toyokuni mabe the same print to advertise the show the Sugawara Tragedy (Chapter 32 in Basil Stewart's guide, "Japanese Prints and their Subject Matter"). If so, the Toyokuni print would be a fairly early work by this artist. The play was obviously very popular (I understand that Sugawara no Michinaze was not only a stateman of the IXth century respected for his moral rectitude, but is also revered in effect as a deity of calligraphy), and several artists have illustrated this play. But why did Toyokuni design his print following so closely Masanobu's model ? Was it a sign of respect of a young artist towards a master from the previous generation ? Was it a challenge that young Toyokuni set for himself to "outdo" the master (the Toyokuni print seems to be of high quality) ? Was it plagiarism ? Or is it that the picture had by the end of the 18th century acquired the status of an icon (indeed, the Toyokuni picture does not include a title - just the signature ("Utagawa Toyokuni ga", followed by a kakihan) ? Is this print part of a series by Toyokuni (Stewart mentions "a very fine four-sheet print by Toyokuni, a copy of which is in the British Museum", representing a scene of the Sugawara play (p. 286). Any information to help me with my research would be appreciated ! Many thanks,

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