Ishikawa Goemon by Utagawa Toyokuni
Japan: Late 18th or early 19th centuries, Woodblock print
This woodblock print depicts a famous Japanese tale about a crime-fighter outlaw named Ishikawa Goemon. It is said that he would steal gold from the rich and give it to the poor, similar to our version of “Robin Hood.” Many anti-authoritarian acts are attributed to him, such as the attempted assassination of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hodeyoshi. Goemon was boiled alive after failing to assassinate Hideyoshi and has since been a part of popular culture.
With its multitudes of colors, this print is a great example of a nishiki-e, or “brocade picture.” Nishiki-e describes the multi-colored woodblock printing technique used mostly during the ukiyo-e era of painting and woodblock printing. Before the invention of nishiki-e, woodblock prints were typically made in black and white or were painstakingly colored in by hand. Nishiki-e allowed the printmaker to carve various blocks, (one for each color) and use them in a quick, step-by-step sequence.
Q: Learn more about nishiki-e.