Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Fujiwara no Yasumasa Playing the Flute by Moonlight" by Yoshitoshi

This image is considered one of the great masterpieces of the last master of Ukiyo-e in the history of Japanese art: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. It is from his series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. This particular image illustrates the tale of a bandit who intended to attack and rob the flutist Fujiwara no Yasumasa. However, the flutist's playing so captivated the bandit that he followed him home where the Yasumasa gave his would-be attacker a new set of clothing.

Yoshitoshi's works date to the late 1800's, but many look like modern-day illustrations. He was an incredible innovator, both influenced by outside art and devoted to the traditional Japanese craft of woodcuts. His images stand out not only for their masterful use of color and gradations, but the dynamic and expressive postures of his characters. Even the setting seems to move. Though the two figures technically float, shadowless on top of their environment, the shape and direction of their limbs and clothing so echoes the angle of the horizon, clouds, and reeds, I can practically hear the sound of the flute on the wind and feel a cool breeze. Though it is a elegantly balanced triptych, this image is anything but still.

Yoshitoshi must have worked fast to produce so much high caliber work in his lifetime. Maybe he felt a sense of urgency given the fast rate at which technology and his own society and culture transformed around him. Maybe that is why so many of his images have a ferocious sense of movement. The environment around the flutist pushes and pulses with motion, and the bandit is poised to strike. But the flutist stands perfectly upright in the center of a triptych, pulling my gaze to him just as his music drew the bandit to his home. In the tale his music compels the bandit to stop, and listen! Here, I feel commanded to stop, and look!

Hopefully tomorrow I'll step out into the world and be of a mind to continue this practice without need of the command.

1 comment:

  1. Fujiwara no Yasumasa Playing the Flute by Moonlight is undeniably one of the greatest masterpieces of Ukiyo-e, and is the defining work by Yoshitoshi. It catches all of the dynamics and drama of life in a single moment and freezes it for all eternity. It allows us to peer into the very souls of the subjects and feel what the feel if only for a moment. Personally one of my favorites.

    Sincerely, Robert Yates
    President, Asian Antiquities