The unusual composition in this depiction of the Kanda Myojin Shrine features three trees carefully placed in order to create a vertical symmetry within the painting.
There are three figures in the background, stood in front of a stunning sunset which strikes a narrow band of colour right across the scene. To the right is the edge of a building, presumably the shrine itself. It feels here that the artist has chosen to find a place of calm from which to work. His series would often capture a wider composition in one iteration before next moving in like this, as the artworks were not merely a collection of unrelated artworks, but a carefully planned series of paintings which link from one to the next. Hiroshige’s technique of using gradients of colour which spread vertically across the painting can be found here in the nearest foreground, with a bright tone of green slowly merging into the sombre tones in the centre of the piece.
The three figures look out over the city of Edo, perhaps relieved at their own relative tranquility within this picturesque location. The angle at which we peer over the population below is intended to give an impression of the character and behaviour of Taira Masakado, who lived here is known to have been feeling vulnerable to political changes at the time. The overhanging branches also gives an additional feeling of hiding away from the masses, carefully spying on their activities from afar. From left to right, the three figures have been identified as a Shinto priest, shrine maiden and her accompanying attendant. The importance is symbolised by the detailed techniques used by the artist to decorate their clothing. The gradients of colour on the priest’s outfit, for example, are made in three different tones, one after another, and this would have taken some level of care to achieve.
Dawn at the Kanda Myojin Shrine is just one of a hundred views of the city of Edo, now known as Tokyo, that make up this important series of paintings. It remains the most respected periods of Hiroshige’s entire career. This particular piece was produced in 1857, at which point the artist would have been approaching 60 years old.