Artist Biography: The artist Suzuki Toshimoto (鈴木年基 also 鈴樹年基) was active circa 1877–1898. He was born around 1854 as Suzuki Rainosuke (鈴木雷之助) and lived in Osaka. He was a disciple of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), which is evident from his style of design, and also produced Western-style (yôga) landscape paintings of Kamigata (Osaka/Kyoto region) that reveal the influence of the Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915). Suzuki was also a writer/editor and publisher under his birth name Suzuki Rainosuke. He had a close association with the publishers Wataya Kihei (綿屋喜兵衛) and Maeda Kijirô (前田喜次郎). Among Suzuki's most familiar works are his prints of the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, including designs with biographical inscriptions of the famous personages. As did many other woodblock artists of the era, he supplied illustrations for the increasingly popular newspapers. Suzuki did this for the newspaper Shinbun zue 新聞図会 under the name Suzuki Sessai. His other gô included Raisai (雷斉 or 蕾斎), although he also signed simply as Rai Toshimoto (雷年基), as on the print we offer here. The last known works by him seem to be three designs he contributed to the collaborative series Tokyo meisho (Famous Places in Tokyo: 東京名所) of horizontal chûban prints issued by the Osaka publisher Nagano Risuke (長野利助) in 1898 (Kawasaki Kyosen, 川崎巨泉 1877–1942, designed nine prints). The date of Suzuki's death is unknown, but it seems to have occurred after 1920 and before 1931 when Ukiyo-e shiden (Biographies of ukiyo-e masters, 浮世絵師伝) was published and listed Suzuki as deceased.
Event Depicted: In 645, a group of conspirators plotted to eliminate the main branch of the Soga clan (defenders of Buddhism as the official religion of the imperial court). These men included Nakatomi no Kamatari (中臣鎌足 courtier, proponent of Shinto, and founder of the Fujiwara clan; 614-669), Prince Naka no Ôe no Ôji (中大兄皇子 who later became Emperor Tenji 天智天皇 reigning from 661-672), Saeki no Komaro (佐伯子麻呂 who served the prince starting in 644; died 666), and Kasuragi no Waka Inukai no Amita (葛城稚犬養網田). They began with the assassination of Soga no Iruka (蘇我入鹿 died 645). Iruka was a son of Soga no Emishi (蘇我蝦夷 587-645), a statesman of the Yamato Imperial Court during the Asuka Period (飛鳥時代 538-645 [or 710]). The assassination took place on July 10, 645 (lunar calendar: 12th day, 6th month of 645), which came to be called the Isshi no hen (Isshi Incident: 乙巳の変 or Murder in the year of Isshi), leading to the transformative Taika no kaishin (Taika reforms: 大化の改新 see below).
The incident took place during a court ceremony at which memorials from the Three Kingdoms of Korea were being read to the thirty-fifth empress Kôgyoku (皇極天皇). Prince Naka no Ôe no Ôji had set in motion elaborate preparations, including closing the gates of the Asuka Itabuki no miya Palace (飛鳥板葺宮), bribing guards, hiding a spear in the hall, and ordering four armed men to attack Iruka. However, when the guards became too frightened to carry out the orders, Naka no Ôe rushed Iruka and slashed his head and shoulder. Iruka, badly wounded, protested his innocence from an accusation that he had plotted to assassinate Prince Yamashiro (Yamashiro no Ôe no Ô: 山背大兄王 died 643). Yamashiro had claimed the right to Imperial succession in 628 but was attacked by Soga forces led by Iruka, whereupon he and his family committed suicide. Prince Naka no Ôe presented the charges against Iruka before the Empress, and after she retired to consider the matter, the four guards (including Saeki no Komaro and Waka Inukai no Amita) finally rushed Iruka and finished him off. When Iruka's father Soga no Emishi heard of his son's murder, he committed suicide by setting fire to his residence.
The Taika no kaishin (Taika reforms: 大化の改新) followed the assassination of Soga no Iruka. The edicts were a set of doctrines established by Emperor Kôtoku (Kôtoku Tennô: 孝徳天皇) in the year 645, written shortly after the death of Prince Shôtoku and the defeat of the Soga no uji (Soga clan: 蘇我氏), which united Japan politically and culturally. The reforms severely curtailed the independence of regional officials and constituted the imperial court as a place of complaint and appeal. The true aim was to bring about greater centralization and to enhance the power of the imperial court. The last edicts attempted to end certain social practices in order to bring Japanese society more in line with Chinese social practices. Nonetheless, it would take centuries for the concept of a Chinese-style emperor to take root in Japan.
Suzuki Toshimoto's design is one of several prints in the series Chikyû zenkai raimei kagami (A mirror of thunderous names around the world: 地球全界雷名鏡), which is inscribed inside the large cartouche at the upper left. The principals are named in the four red rectangular cartouches: (TR) Saeki no Komaro (佐伯子麻呂); (TL) Fujiwara-ren no Kamatari (藤原連鎌足) and Naka no Ôe no Ôji (中大兄皇子); (BL): Soga no Iruka (蘇我入鹿) and Waka Inukai no Amita (稚犬養網田).
There is no question that Suzuki Toshimoto must have been one of Yoshitoshi's most brilliant students. The drawing skills demonstrated here compare quite favorably with those of his master. The agitated and precise quality of line, assertive composition, explosive action, and expressively realistic protagonists are all remarkably rendered. Iruka's naga-bakama (long-legged or trailing trousers: 長袴) have been transformed into an ingenious design element, sweeping upwards in a near-ghostly form, its rich dark-red pigment tarnishing to great effect. It takes a moment to see that Waka Inukai no Amita — visible by only his right forearm and hand, four fingers of the left hand emerging from under Iruka's beard, the bottom of his left foot, and toes of his right foot — has grabbed Iruka from behind. Saeki no Komaro, bursting with rage, is shown on the right gripping his sword handle, while Fujiwara-ren no Kamatari and Prince Naka no Ôe no Ôji are some distance away observing the deadly encounter with menacing stares.
Our impression is excellent with fine colors and intact margins. In our opinion, this is one of the best Meiji-period action-packed jidai-nishiki-e (history color print: 時代錦絵) that will ever become available for acquisition.