Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Taishun 大舜 from the series Twenty Four Paragons of Filial Piety for Children (Nijushi-ko doji kagami: 二十四孝童子鑑)

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Dates: circa 1843,created
Dimensions: 8.5 in,14.0 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga

Related links: British Museum; Kobe City Museum - Cultural Heritage Online;

Physical description:

Laura Allen wrote on page 153 in The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection in reference to an Okamura Masanobu of this same theme: "The series title Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety refers to a work said to have been composed by the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) Chinese scholar Guo Jujing. The subject of this print is a virtuous young man known as Dashun (or simply Shun), who never deviated from proper respect toward his family despite harsh treatment from his father, his cruel stepmother, and her jealous son. When scolded or beaten, he simply escaped outside, cultivating the family fields alone. Noting his filial devotion, creatures emerged from the nearby mountains to help: in spring elephants came to plow the furrows, and in summer birds flocked to pull weeds. When the emperor heard this tale, he stepped in and guided the young man, until eventually Shun assumed the throne himself and became a virtuous ruler."


Taishun (Dashun) hoeing a field with the help of elephants and a flock of sparrows; a lake, a village, and mountains are in the background.

The publisher is Wakasaya Yoichi.

The text in the cartouche in the upper left reads:

大舜ハ父母弟とも心よからず三人いひ合せ舜をころさんとたくむ 舜少しも恨まず孝行し弟を恤(めぐ)ミ歴山といふ所に耕作すれバ大象ニ鳥来り耕し草どりけり 其徳顕れ帝堯と申君 位を舜にゆづり玉ふ 是孝行の徳也


About this particular series:

"The 'Twenty-four paragons of filial piety' (Nijūshi-kō), consisted of Chinese stories about children who behaved towards their parents in an exemplary, self-sacrificing manner. Considered the supreme Confucian virtue in China, filial piety () ranked second in the samurai-dominated society of Edo period Japan after feudal loyalty (chū). The Chinese tales were attributed to the Yuan-period author Gung Jujing (Yizi, 1260-1368). In Japan they first became a common subject in paintings and illustrated manuscripts of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), before featuring in printed illustrated books and woodblock prints in the Edo period. Several ukiyo-e artists had produced versions before Kuniyoshi, but the stories took on a new resonance in the moralising ethos promoted by the authorities during the Tenpō reforms of the 1840s.

Despite the Chinese origins of the tales, Kuniyoshi's style in this series is at its most European.... Recent research by Japanese scholars has revealed some of the artist's sources. He clearly copied some figures and other motifs from illustrations in European books; notably Gedenkwaerdige Zee-en Lant_Reize door de boornaemste van West en Oost Indien of 1682, by Jan (Johannes) Nieuhof (1618-1672)... In other cases he borrowed motifs from prints by Japanese artists working in a European-influenced style, such as Aōdō Denzen (1748-1822). In yet other instances he took his cue from illustrations in Japanese books that were themselves adaptations of European sources, for example reusing figures fromt the Kōmo zatsuwa (Dutch Miscellany, 1787), edited by Morishima Chūryō (1756-1810), that had been modelled on ones in Het Groot Schilderboek (Great Book of Painting, 1707) by the Dutch artist Gerard de Lairesse (1640/41)-1711)... Further research promises to disclose more borrowings of this kind.

Each of the fifteen published designs known from the series includes a rectangular cartouche containing a synopsis of the child's exemplary behaviour. Robinson lists and describes fourteen of the prints....

A publisher's advertisement for the series appears in an illustrated novel issued in 1844, so the fourteen designs that do not bear censorship seals are thought to have been published in c. 1843... The moralising theme was of precisely the kind being encouraged by the authorities in the Tenpō reforms."

Quoted from: Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection by Timothy Clark, p. 212.

[The choice of bold print above is our own.]


Also illustrated in color in 歌川国芳展: 生誕200年記念 Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Exhibition to Commemorate the 200th Anniversary of his birth, 1996, #108, p. 98.


There is another copy of this print in the Worcester Art Museum.


As of February 2015 this is the only print from this series in the Lyon Collection. However, there are other prints by Kuniyoshi on this same theme elsewhere in this collection.