Kunichika Toyohara, Kabuki, A Mirror of Osaka, Tattoo Design


Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Natsumatsuri Naniwa Kagami (A Mirror of Osaka, Summer Festival)
Publisher: Yonemoto Eikichi
Date: 1883
Size: (L) 35.3 x 25.0 (C) 35.4 x 24.8 (R) 35.5 x 25.0 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

The actors Ichikawa Danjuro IX in the role of otokodate Danshichi Kurobei (middle) murdering his father-in-law Giheiji (left) as played by Ichikawa Sadanji I. Onoe Kikugoro V in the role of Issun Tokubei is seen on the right. Danshichi Kurobei is tattooed with a dragon.

The scene depicted here is one of kabuki's most famous episodes, the 'Nagamachi noura no ba' (Back Street Scene in Nagamachi). Overcome with rage, Danshichi, his knotted hair falling to his shoulders, strips down to a red loincloth, revealing his tattooed body. Danshichi takes the old man's life with a thrust of his sword, then washes splattered blood and Giheiji’s muddy handprints from his body, using water from a nearby well. He escapes by mingling with the large crowd of festival celebrants.

In stage performances during Japan's hot summers, the use of real mud and real water would have given the audience a pleasant feeling of coolness.

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Kunichika Toyohara
Title Natsumatsuri Naniwa Kagami (A Mirror of Osaka, Summer Festival)
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo
Dimensions (L) 35.3 x 25.0 (C) 35.4 x 24.8 (R) 35.5 x 25.0 cm
Condition Report Some wear and paper residue on the margins. Minor spots. Small backed vertical crease through the middle panel.

Kunichika Toyohara

One of the last great masters of ukiyo-e, Kunichika was inspired by the plays, actors and customs of kabuki theatre. His colourful prints are records of a long lost, decadent underworld of Edo. As a young man, he studied with the ukiyo-e artist Chikanobu, from whom he received his artist name. He then apprenticed under Kunisada and began to produce actor prints in the Utagawa style, though he never used the Utagawa name. Unlike most artists of the period, he made use of strong reds and dark purples, often as background colours, rather than the softer colours that had previously been used. These new colours were made of aniline dyes imported in the Meiji period from Germany. When portraying people he only occasionally showed figures wearing Western dress, despite its growing popularity in Japan. He is also one of the best known artists to have designed a great number of prints featuring tattoos, a genre made popular earlier in Edo period by Kuniyoshi Utagawa.

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