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  • Thumbnail for Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the Palace in Kamakura
    Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the Palace in Kamakura by Keisei Eisen

    From the Kanadehon Chushingura (Model of the Kana Syllabury: the Forty-seven Loyal Retainers) series. Keisei Eisen was born in Edo, the son of a calligraphy artist. He was apprenticed to Kikugawa Eizan and studied traditional painting before becoming a printmaker. Throughout his career, Eisen’s work was productive and varied. Book illustrations and prints were his first commissioned works. Early on, he achieved lasting fame for his bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women), and both contributed to and edited the Ukiyo-e ruiko (History of Prints of the Floating World) one of the few surviving sources of information-rich material on printmaking art and artists in Japan. At times, he struck partnerships with other artists of his age, such as his collaboration with Hiroshige, which resulted in a series of landscape prints entitled The Sixty-nine Stations on the Kiso Highway. Eisen also released many surimono (privately issued prints), shunga (erotic prints), and some landscape pieces. In addition to his career as a printmaker, Eisen pursued other sources of income. A self-described hard-drinker who humbly titled his version of Japanese print history Mumeio zhuihitsu (Essays by a Nameless Old Man), Eisen was also the manager and proprietor of a brothel for a time. Today, however he is most famous for his portrayals of the beauties of old Japan. Kana-dehon Chushingura (Model of the Kana Syllabury: the Forty-seven Loyal Retainers) was a popular and frequently performed Kabuki play in the late 18th and early 19th century in Edo. Based on actual historical events from 1701 – 1703, the play tells of forty-seven ronin (samurai without a lord) who seek revenge for the unjust death of their leader Enya-Hangan. Enya-hangan draws his sword in reaction to the insults of Moronao, a capital offence resulting in a death sentence.