Utagawa Sadahide (Japanese, 1807–1873), Untitled, with narrative cartouche. The 47 Rōnin returning with the head of their lord’s enemy, 1847–1852, ink on paper, color woodblock print, 14-3/8 × 9-7/8 in. (each). Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Gift of Eliza M. Niblack, 16.967A-C.
A Tale of Honor and Loyalty
This exhibition examines the story of the ‟47 Rōnin”, one of the most widely-known and popular historical tales in Japan, where a group of samurai successfully attacked the villa of an important government official, Kira Kozuke no suke, to avenge the death of their lord. Once this vengeance was enacted, and after surrendering to the authorities, all 47 were ordered to commit seppuku. Their determination to demonstrate their loyalty to their late lord at the sacrifice of their lives electrified Japan, and the famous playwright Chikamatsu Monazaemon turned it into a drama for the stage. Using woodblock prints from the IMA collection to illustrate the main and side stories, we will explore why this tale of murder and vengeance was, and remains, so popular.