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Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)

Mase Magoshiro Masatatsu

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Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
Mase Magoshiro Masatatsu
Biographies of the Loyal Retainers
Woodblock Print
c. 1847
14.25" x 10.125"
Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga
Good color and impression, stain on lower right corner and edge, light overall soiling and wear, embellsihed with hand splashed gofun


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Ebiya Rinnosuke
Kinugasa and Hama (censor seal)

About the art

Based on true events from the turn of the 18th century, the story of the forty-seven ronin has sparked prints, plays, books and contemporary film. The story goes as follows: The shogun appointed Asano Naganori, a young lord from the country, to receive the Emperor’s ambassadors. The unscrupulous Kira Yoshinaka was assigned to teach Asano the ways of court etiquette, but insulted Asano so deeply that the country lord drew his sword in the palace. This offense mandated ritual suicide. Asano’s forty-seven samurai retainers swore to avenge their master’s death. After much planning, they staged a night attack, killing Kira before turning themselves in and meeting their own death. Their revenge marks an exemplary stand for the samurai code of bushido–a code of loyalty and honor. To this day, the forty-seven ronin remain enshrined at Sengaku Temple beside their beloved master. This design has served as the logo of Ronin Gallery for nearly 45 years.

Other impressions can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the British Museum, Edo Tokyo Museum, Waseda University Theatre Museum, and Tokyo Metro Library.

About the artist

The son of silk dyer, Kuniyoshi Utagawa was born into the Igusa family in Edo. Little is known about his very early years, though he is said to have shown remarkable talent from a young age. Kuniyoshi began his ukiyo-e career as a pupil of Shunei. At age 14 he was accepted to study the art of woodblock printing under Toyokuni I and, in time, would become one of his most successful students. In 1814, he left Toyokuni’s studio to pursue a career as an independent Japanese ukiyo-e artist. Initially, he had little success, selling tatami mats in order to support himself. However, his fortunes changed in 1827 with his dramatic series 108 Heroes of the Suikoden. From that point on, the public hungered for his portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi worked in all genres, producing some brilliant landscapes and charming bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). He died in the spring of 1861 from complications of a stroke.


In direct contrast to the peaceful views of a scenic Japan provided by Hiroshige and Hokusai, the following decades saw a rise of the fierce, fearsome and fantastical in ukiyo-e. Kuniyoshi welcomed this changing public taste. He had a ravenous imagination and the full scope of his work reveals an aesthetic sensibility capable of assimilating almost any experience. No doubt, however, his particular genius felt most at home in the world of martial glory, where epic battles decided the fate of empires and fierce warriors clashed to the death. Utagawa Kuniyoshi's prints were so popular in his time that he received requests for tattoo designs.

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