Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) / Toyokuni III (三代豊国)

Print: Fan Kuai (樊噲) breaking down a door in the Emperor's palace
from the series Kan-So gundan (Battle Tales of the Han and Chu - 漢楚軍談).

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Dates: circa 1827,created
Dimensions: 10.5 in,15.0 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: ōju (by request) Gototei Kunisada ga
Publisher: Nishimuraya Yohachi
(Marks 391 - seal 01-008)
Censor's seal: kiwame

Related links: Freer-Sackler Galleries; Hagi Uragami Museum of Art; Lyon Collection - Yu Ki print from this series;Lyon Collection - Chōryō print from this series;

Physical description:

Starting in 1805 there was a fad for portraying stories from early Chinese history and folklore. This continued for years well into the 1830s. This print by Kunisada relates to a story about the first Han dynasty emperor. Liu Bang (247-195 B.C.) was a minor official of the Qin dynasty who led a revolt that he eventually won in 202 B.C. When he did he established himself as the first Han ruler under the name Gaozu.

1810s Shunei from same publisher

Sebastian Izzard in Kunisada's World wrote on page 107: "Like Liu Bang, Fan Kuai... came from a lowly background. He was an early follower of Liu Bang, and when the latter became emperor he was appointed minister.In 196 B.C., suspecting a plot against the emperor's life at a banquet, Fan stormed into the dining hall, carrying part of a screen under his arm as a shield, the incident shown in this print. After eating and drinking to excess, Fan feigned drunkenness and upbraided the plotters, allowing the emperor to escape."

In Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints in the Anne van Biema Collection it says on pages 198 and 201: "Fan Kuai (in Japanese, Han Kai), a dog butcher by trade, was one of Gaozu's earliest and closest companions. Gaozu regarded him so highly that he wed him to his wife's younger sister. Fan Kuai was renowned for his loyalty to the emperor.

The last stages of the civil war that followed the collapse of the Qin dynasty and resulted in the establishment of the Han pitted Gaozu against Xiang Yu, a man of noble descent. Gaozu had entered his chief rival's camp at Hongmen and accepted an invitation to drink with him. His followers were wary, but he insisted. In the course of the drinking, a number [of] Xiang Yu's followers urged him to eliminate his rival then and there. When Fan Kuai learned of this,he armed himself,forced his way into Xiang Yu's camp, and burst into the tent where the rivals were drinking, in order to defend Gaozu. The Historical Records describing his knocking the camp sentries to the ground by 'tipping his shield to either side' and how, when he confronted Gaozu's enemy, 'his hair stood on end and his eyes blazed with fire'....

The blue-ground cartouche with ornate frame in the center foreground contains the set and print titles, followed by a short descriptive caption: 'Enraged at the banquet at Hongmen, he breaks down the gate to the camp.' "


Illustrated in 1) Ukiyo-e dai musha-e ten - 浮世絵大武者絵展 - (The Samurai World in Ukiyo-e), edited by Yuriko Iwakiri, Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, 2003, #124, p. 51. [This example is from the Nagoya City Museum.]

And 2) in black and white in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 8, p. 115.