Tsukioka Yoshitoshi is widely regarded as the last great master of the ukiyo-e genre. His career spanned the opening of Japan and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration; a period of radical social, political and technological change during which he pushed traditional Japanese woodblock printing to a new level, even as the advent of photography and lithography were rendering it obsolete. “Yoshitoshi’s courage, vision and force of character gave ukiyo-e another generation of life, and illuminated it with one last burst of glory,” wrote author John Stevenson, reflecting a sentiment that Yoshitoshi himself may have intended in his death poem: “holding back the night / with its increasing brilliance / the summer moon.”
Yoshitoshi completed One Hundred Aspects of the Moon in the year of his death, 1892. Art curator Tamara Tjardes describes it as “a pilgrimage to Japan’s glorious past,” depicting “figures from Japanese and Chinese mythology, folklore, history, literature and theatre.” The series was so popular, she notes, that “townspeople were said to have lined up before dawn to buy a print of the latest image.”
In this print, titled Shizu Peak Moon, he depicts Toyotomi Hideyoshi signaling his troops on the morning of the Battle of Shizugatake; an important victory in his path to unify Japan. Learning that Shibata Katsuie’s forces besieging Shizugatake were dangerously overextended, Hideyoshi led his soldiers on a forced march, arriving on the field much sooner than expected. Taken by surprise, Katsuie’s army was routed and pursued back to his fortress at Kitanosho Castle, where he committed seppuku.