Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Nichiren Praying for Rain at the Promontory of Ryōzanga-saki at Kamakura

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga; ōban, yoko-e, 24.7 x 36.9 cm; nishiki-e with fukibokashi

From „Simple Illustrations of the Life of our Founder“ (series of ten sheets). On a steep cliff overlooking a raging sea the priest Nichiren is praying at a small altar in the pouring rain. The other monks are wildly gesticulating in unbridled joy at the falling rain. Nichiren (1222–1282) made many enemies with his aggressive sermons and writings, and was repeatedly banned, yet he had many admirers among the simple people. Kuniyoshi was, like many other ukiyo-e artists, especially those of the Torii school, a follower of the teachings of Nichiren.

F. Tikotin, La Tour de Peilz (May 1964)
Riese Collection #107

Like other ukiyo-e artists before him, notably the Torii clan, Kuniyoshi was a member of the Buddhist sect which was founded in the 13th century by the militant priest, Nichiren. In 1831, shortly before Hiroshige began his first Tōkaidō series, but somewhat after Hokusai had begun his 36 Views of Mt. Fuji, the Nichiren sect celebrated the 550th anniversary of their founder’s death with great ceremony. As a devotee himself, Kuniyoshi decided to contribute to the occasion by designing a set of ten episodes from Nichiren’s miracle-strewn career. Rather than compose them in the upright format, and in the heroic vein that his admirers associated with his portraits of the 108 Heroes of the Chinese novel Suicide, he decided instead to experiment in the horizontal format, introducing elements of landscape, and making use of berorin ai, the new Prussian blue pigment that had recently become available and which could be used with striking effect in printing large expanses of sky or sea. His publisher, Iseya Rihei, favoured the proposal, and ten prints were designed and published. Either because the anniversary celebration was much in people’s minds, or because the set was designed with sectaries in mind, the title does not call Nichiren by name, but refers to him only as The Founder. Another indication of the strong votive aspect of the set is the fact that on five of the ten prints Kuniyoshi used a seal after his name composed of the Utagawa clan emblem, the circular toshidama in a well-shaped square, directly imitating the Nichiren sect emblem of a square around an orange blossom.

Most impressions of Nichiren praying for rain have dark blue overprinting around the waves in the foreground. This impression has only a delicate silver grey marking the troughs of the rising waves. The overall effect of the print is of transparent clarity, probably the effect Kuniyoshi had in mind. The left border is broken at the height of the wave tops, as it is on the impression reproduced by Robinson (pl. 22), which shows dark printing around the waves. An impression reproduced in colour in the Berlin catalogue (pl. 124, no. 893), seems to have been printed before the border broke. The cloaks of the two kneeling monks on the Berlin impression are a darker grey than on the Riese print, but the effect of printing, especially the general transparency and the lightness of the waves, seem to be the same.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 94.