Kunisada: Actor with butterflies and flowers from the Fox-Woman story 稲荷社 の菜種花 安部保名

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)
Title: Canola Flowers of the Inari Shrine (Inari no mori no natane no hana) 稲荷社 の菜種花 安部保名

Series: Tosei mitate sanju-rokkasen 當盛見立 三十六花撰 (Contemporary Kabuki Actors Likened to Thirty-Six Flowers (Immortals of Poetry))

Date: 1861

Canola Flowers of the Inari Shrine (Inari no mori no natane no hana). In this series actors are compared both with 36 flowers as well as the 36 Immortal Poets.  The actor Ichimura Uzaemon XIII/Onoe Kikugorô V is portrayed here in the role of Abe no Yasuna. Abe no Yasuna 安倍保名 was the kindhearted man who married the fox-woman Kuzunoha; their son became the court magician Abe no Seimei. He wears an unusual hairstyle, with bushy sides and a long back, and his one hand is curled while his other hand holds a fan; these attributes must be specific to this role. This may be from the play Ashiya dôman ôuchi kagami (Abe Yasuna and the White Fox Woman, Kuzunoha), in which a magical white fox takes the form of Kuzunoha and marries Abe no Yasuna, a man who had been betrothed to a woman named Kuzunoha six years before. When their child is five years old, the real Kuzunoha and her parents appear at their cottage in Abeno, and Abe no Yasune realizes that his wife is actually a fox-woman. The fox-woman Kuzunoha then must write a parting poem using only her mouth, as her hands are turning back into paws, as she knows she must return to Shinoda forest and leave her son and husband. Her son grows up to become a powerful onmyôji, sorcerer, thanks to his magical lineage. There are many ukiyo-e designs that depict the various versions and portions of this story.

The yellow flower at right is of the the Nanohana (Brassica napus) plant; it is eaten in Japan as a vegetable in early spring, before the plant blossoms. Two butterflies hover above the actor. The background is a rather unusual shade of sky-blue; later editions have a much darker grey background, such as the example in the MFA Boston.

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Minor trimming at left. Printed on heavy, deluxe paper, with mica highlights against the unusual blue background--this must be a deluxe edition of this design.

Dimensions: ôban (36.3 x 24.5 cm)
Publisher:  Hiranoya Shinzo 

Reference: Osaka Castle Museum, Mitate no sekai (exh. cat., 2004), #37. See MFA Boston, British Museum.

Signature: Toyokuni ga