This tale remains one of the most enduring myths in Japanese culture as an exemplar of bushido, the samurai code of honour, which demands loyalty and glorifies vengeance and death. The story of the 47 ronin became widely popularized in Japan through the stage play Kanadehon Chûshingura ("Treasury Of Loyal Retainers”), written by Chikamatsu Monzaemo and Takeda Izumo in 1748. As the popularity of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) increased in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Chûshingura became a favoured subject for many of the art-form's leading practitioners, including Utamaro, Toyokuni I, Hokusai, Hiroshige, Kuniyasu, and a young up-and-coming artist named Gototei (later Utagawa) Kunisada. Kunisada returned to the subject of the 47 ronin in 1864, at the age of seventy-nine, with a new series of 48 prints (including an additional "ghost samurai”). Despite this advanced age, the images he produced rank amongst the finest of his career, and this 47 Ronin stands near the pinnacle of his achievements. Kunisada's 47 Ronin remains one of the greatest (but rarely celebrated) ukiyo-e series of the late Edo period.
This Ukiyo-e Master Special edition of Kunisada's 47 Ronin contains not only Kunisada's complete set of 48 samurai prints, reproduced in full-size and full-colour, but also reference prints from Kuniyoshi's classic series of 1847, complementing each image. The book also features A.B. Mitford's definitive Legend Of The 47 Ronin, the first English-language version of the story from 1871. This text is illustrated with 47 Ronin prints by various other classic ukiyo-e artists, including Yoshitora, Yoshitoshi, and Kunichika, bringing the total number of colour prints in the book to over 100. Ukiyo-e Master Specials is a new occasional series highlighting individual print sets by classic ukiyo-e artists.