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with mica ground, signed Shunsen with artist’s seal Shunsen, published by Watanabe Shozaburo, ca. 1951
dai oban tate-e 15 3/4 by 11 in., 40 by 27.8 cm
The actor Onoe Shoroku II (1913-1989) is in the role of the Priest Tsuchigu from the play Tsuchi Gumo (The Earth Spider). The play tells the legendary tale of the warrior Yorimitsu’s confrontation with the massive Earth Spider disguised as the priest. Priest Tsuchigu approaches the warrior with an offer of a religious service, which Yorimitsu readily accepts. As the priest begins to pray, however, his shadow expands towards Yorimitsu and soon engulfes him like a web. The warrior draws his sword and disrupts the spider-priest’s incantations. The injured Tsuchigu escapes to his lair, but is followed by Yorimitsu and his four trusted lieutenants and challenged to a decisive confrontation. The spider-priest fights valiantly, but is felled by Yorimitsu’s accomplice Yasumasa, who’s sword is remembered as Kumokirimaru (lit. the spider cutting sword).
In a 1865 composition Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) imagined a very different confrontation between Yorimitsu and the spider-demon. From his series Wakan hyakumonogatari (One Hundred Tales of Japan and China), Yoshitoshi depicts Yorimitsu sitting in an ornate setting and pondering a much smaller foe.
Yorimitsu is based on the historical Fujiwara commander Minamoto no Yorimitsu, also known as Minamoto no Raiko (948-1021). His historical achievements were numerous. He was renowned both as a statesman and as a warrior who quelled bandits and fought in numerous conflicts. Many of these exploits, as well as those of his four legendary retainers, the Shiten’o, have been reimagined to involve fantastic demons, ghosts, and beasts.
Yamaguchi Keizoro, Shunsen Natori Exhibition Catalogue, Kushigata, 1991, no. 62
Kozo Yamada, Shunsen Natori: Collection of the Kushigata Shunsen Museum of Art, 2002, p. 48, cat. no. 58
Samuel L. Leiter, Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theater, 2014, p. 672 (re: play)