Kunisada (Toyokuni III): Complete Set of Seven Actors that form an Heptaptych
Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)
Title: 当世勇競 Tose isame kurabe: Competition (Mirror) of Heroes of our Time
Seven prints that work as individual designs; together they form a stunning heptaptych. This is a deluxe edition that features seven famous actors peacocking against a snowy backdrop on a winter evening. Kunisada was famous for his prints of these dandy-style Edo figures, "shiranami", which were based on a Robin Hood-type of hero. Each of the standing figures (tachisugata) have the same edo murasaki purple kimonos with the large crests on the shoulders (kubinuki) and near the hem, and the red under-kimono in black. Their obi tie has black and white checks over the background pattern in pale blue. All men wear their blue towels in dandy fashion and carry tucked swords. They stand on towering takageta which keeps them above the snow.
The word “Shiranami“ (literally “white waves”), heroic robbers in Kabuki, comes from the Chinese story of these thieves whose hideout was in the Valley of White Wave, Shiranami ; thus the name “Shiranami Bandits“. These protagonists in Kabuki, although thieves, were friends of the poor and weak, which matched with the spirit of Edo townspeople and were extremely appealing in their lines of a drama and dandy styles. It is said that Kawatake Mokuami, author of Kabuki dramas, wrote many stories with Shiranami figures, inspired by the visual presentation of Kunisada and impressed by the talented Kabuki actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV.
Going from right to left: First in the lineup we see Matsumoto Shiro (or Byaku)taro, with the “hundred-days” (without shaving) hairstyle, which is always worn by bandits. He is pushing up one sleeve, as if readying for a fight. His upper crest shows a 16-petaled chrysanthemum within a circle. Next we see Hana no okan, a female-role-playing actor (onnagata). She holds up the hem of her kimono and has her left hand hidden within the sleeve in a demure gesture. Her large obi sash is tied in a large bow, in the style of a young woman. She looks over her shoulder towards the other actors. Next is Shinzaburô (?). He holds a kiseru tobacco pipe. The crest at the bottom of his kimono seems to be “Rokuyata-goshi“, the checked design used for the costume for Okabe Rokuyata in “Ichino-tani musha-e no izuto“, played by Ichikawa Danjuro VIII in 1849. This is a variation of “mimasu“ crest of Narita-ya, which became popular after Rokuyata. Next is Amano Shokuro, facing towards Shinzaburo. Apparently Ichikawa Ichizo played this role. The next actor is difficult to identify. The actor has kimono with the crests sparrow with a character “ko“ on his shoulder and “i-bishi' (character i placed in a form of stylized water chestnut) at the bottom. The combination of a stylized sparrow in circle and the character “ko“ was called “Kotaro suzume”. The “i-bishi“ is the crest of Narikoma-ya, a guild name of acting family. The sixth actor is Seiriki Tomitao. Seiriki Tomitao (1817-1849) was a kyokaku, man who gives assistance to the weak and crushes the strong and was a strong sumo wrestler at one time. He gambled and became a henchman of Sasagawa Shigekura in the “Tempo Suikoden“ (of rokyoku recitation) story. Kunisada has given him a wider girth, as fitting with the character. The final print is of a female character. O-Fuji shows some special features. She holds a toothpick to her mouth with one hand and pulls up the hem of her kimono with the other. She has her comb at her right side (yokogushi), unlike the usual style. The way the female actor holds up her kimono hem shows her social standing; examples include a geisha, or a married or unmarried woman. She pulls up the vertical hems in tsuma-dori style with her left fingers, i.e. indicating that she is a geisha-- as an expression says “picking up the hems with her left hand (hidari tsuma o toru)“, meaning becoming a geisha. (With thanks to Ms. Michiko Sato Grube for her detailed descriptions.)
Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Untrimmed and unbacked, with mica in the sky. Mint. Printed on deluxe, heavy paper with the greatest care for details.
Dimensions: ôban heptaptych (38 x 180.5 cm)
Publisher: Kagaya Kichiemon (Seiseidô)
Signature: ki-o (old man of 77 years) Toyokuni ga