The Military Tales of Han and Chu: Emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865)
Historical period(s)
Edo period, ca. 1830
Ink and color on paper
H x W (overall): 37.4 x 25.2 cm (14 3/4 x 9 15/16 in)
Credit Line
The Anne van Biema Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Woodblock print

Anne van Biema collection, dragon, Edo period (1615 - 1868), emperor, Japan, oban, ukiyo-e
Provenance research underway.

Kunisada responded to the success of Kuniyoshi's first series based on The Water Margin with prints devoted to the Chinese heroes of the historical romance The Military Tales of Han and Chu (Chinese, Han-Chu juntan; Japanese, Kan-So gundan), which includes tales of the founding of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.). This print illustrates one of the tales that helped establish the legitimacy of the reign of the first emperor of the Han dynasty, Gaozu (Japanese, Koso), who had risen from commoner origins. Here he kills a snake, which is later revealed to have been a form assumed by the son of the White Emperor. Gaozu learns that the killer of the snake is known as the Red Emperor, a sign that he will succeed, since according to Chinese cosmology, red succeeds white, the color associated with the previous Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.E.).

Published References
  • Sebastian Izzard Asian Art LLC, J. Thomas Rimer, John T. Carpenter. Kunisada's World: An exhibition held at the Japan Society Gallery, New York, September 30 - November 14, 1993. Exh. cat. New York. pp. 106-7.
  • Ann Yonemura, et al. Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints from the Anne van Biema Collection. Seattle and Washington. cat. 73, pp. 198-201.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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