Guan Yu, Liu Bei, and Zhang Fei
(Kan'u, Gentoku, Chohi)
signed Kochoro Kunisada ga, publisher's seal Toriaburacho, Tsuruki han (Tsuruya Kiemon of Senkakudo), censor's seal kiwame, ca. 1830-1841
oban tate-e triptych 14 3/4 by 29 3/4 in., 37.5 by 75.5 cm
This composition depicts Zhang Fei, Liu Bei, and Guan Yu (Japanese names Chohi, Gentoku, and Kan'u respectively), three heroes from the 14th century Chinese novel Sanguo hanyi (The Romance of the Three Kingdoms). The novel is attributed to the author Luo Guanzhong (either 1280-1360 or 1330-1400) and is considered to be one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature. It tells the story of the many battles and power struggles following the end of the Han dynasty, a period from 169 AD to 280 AD. Liu Bei (pictured in the center sheet, whose historical counterpart lived from 161 to 223) ruled the Shu-Han state with the close guidance of his blood oath brothers Guan Yu (left sheet, d. 220) and Zhang Fei (right sheet, d. 221). In both China and Japan, the three warriors are remembered as paragons of martial abilities. That being said, their legacies are individuated. Liu Bei is thought of as a wise and accomplished ruler and Guan Yu is held in deep regard for his loyalty and integrity. In addition to being a brilliant tactician, legend has it that Zhang Fei was a heavy drinker.
James King and Yuriko Iwakiri, Japanese Warrior Prints 1646-1905, 2007, p. 212, cat. no. 113 (re: Guan Yu)
Amy Reigle Newland and Chris Uhlenbeck, Yoshitoshi: Masterpieces from the Ed Fries Collection, 2011, p. 98, cat. no. 63.6 (re: Zhang Fei)
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site last updated
March 22, 2019
Scholten Japanese Art
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