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  • Thumbnail for Scene from the series: Story of Loyal, Prominent, and Faithful Samurai, act 4 (Ch?y? gishi roku dai yon)
    Scene from the series: Story of Loyal, Prominent, and Faithful Samurai, act 4 (Ch?y? gishi roku dai yon) by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)

    Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper. Signed: Ichisai Toyokuni Hitsu. Two round censor seals at the top of the picture used between18471848. Right: Yoshimura Gentaro; left: Muramatsu Yoshimura. This print is nice because its border has not been trimmed and the round censor seals are still intact above the top margin of the picture. The series portrays the most famous vendetta of samurai retainers in the Edo period, the Chushingura, or the tale of the 47 masterless samurai (ronin). On the snowy night of January 30, 1703, in an incident known as the Ako vendetta, forty-six samurai who had sworn an oath to revenge their master's needless death burst into the mansion of the man responsible for the death of their former master, Asano Naganori, the lord of Ako. They were led by Oishi Kuranosuke, Asano's chief advisor. Their intended victim, Kira Yoshinaka, was a powerful noble and an important retainer of the imperial household. After refusing the opportunity to die by his own hand, Kira was killed with the same dagger Asano had used to commit seppuku, and then beheaded. At dawn on the following morning the samurai surrendered themselves to the priests of a Buddhist temple to await their punishment. The vendetta served as the basis for what is without doubt the most famous and popular work of the Japanese Kabuki theater, Kanadehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers: A Model for Emulation). During the Tokugawa era (1600-1868) there was a ban on the depiction in art or the dramatization on stage of current historical events using the actual names of the nobility involved. Therefore, the theatrical version of the Ako vendetta was set in the days of the fourteenth-century shogun Takauiji; Asano, Kira, and Oishi became Enya, Moronao, and Oboshi, and the setting of the play was changed from Edo to Kamakura. Act IV, depicted here, consists entirely of Enya's seppuku, the punishment ordered by the shogun for his attempt on Moronao's life. This scene, filled with quiet, yet terrible, passion, is one of the classical moments of kabuki theater. As the preparations for his suppuku are completed, Enya swears to "return to life again and again until my vengeance is accomplished." From an adjoining room Enya's retainers beg through the closed door to be allowed one last look at their master. In silence Enya, dressed in white, the traditional color of death, waits for Yuranosuke while he continues his preparations. A thick, white tatami mat is laid with branches of ceremonial herbs in each corner. Enya slides his outer-garment off on his shoulders and tucks the long ends firmly under his knees so that the tension of the fabric will cause him to fall face down. At a silent signal Rikiya enters bringing a short sword on a wooden stand. Finally, there is nothing else left to do; Enya gathers his composure, and in a swift motion takes up the sword and drives it into his stomach. Just then Yuranosuke enters and speaks in calm, almost fatherly tones, bidding Enya to die bravely. Gazing steadily into his chamberlain's face, Enya tells Yuranosuke that he must avenge his death using this very same sword, and with a last effort completes the act of ritual suicide.

  • Thumbnail for Hana chiru sato
    Hana chiru sato by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)

    From the series "Faithful depictions of the figure of the shining prince" (Sono sugata Hikaru no utushi-e). Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper. This print is number 11 in the series. It is heavily trimmed along the left side and is missing its border. This print isfrom a series satirizing the Tale of Genji, the celebrated tenth century Japanese novel of Heian period courtly life, focusing on the assorted love affairs of Prince Genji and his clan. The Tale of Genji, by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, is one of the most popular themes for illustrated book and paintings throughout Japanese history. The novel is renowned as the world's first novel. It includes 54 chapters, so most series have 54 prints plus a title page. These prints essentially parody the original in order to make the ancient subject more appealing to a contemporary audience. Therefore, the artist represented the figures in contemporary clothing and placed them in a modern setting.

  • Thumbnail for Umega-e - woodblock print
    Umega-e - woodblock print by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)

    From the series: Faithful depictions of the figure of the shining prince (Sono sugata Hikaru no utushi-e). Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper. This print is number 32 in the series. The borders of this print has been trimmed. This print is from a series satirizing the Tale of Genji, the celebrated tenth century Japanese novel of Heian period courtly life, focusing on the assorted love affairs of Prince Genji and his clan. The Tale of Genji, by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, is one of the most popular themes for illustrated book and paintings throughout Japanese history. The novel is renowned as the world's first novel. It includes 54 chapters, so most series have 54 prints plus a title page. These prints essentially parody the original in order to make the ancient subject more appealing to a contemporary audience. Therefore, the artist represented the figures in contemporary clothing and placed them in a modern setting.

  • Thumbnail for Kabuki Actor at his Dressing Table
    Kabuki Actor at his Dressing Table by Unidentified artist, possibly Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)

    Woodblock print, surimono type, ink, colors, and embossing on paper. Surimono were limited edition, fine quality prints produced for a small, select group of clients, in this case, fans of the actor portrayed.