Kunisada: Ichikawa Danjuro VII with Elaborate Robe Featuring Benkei

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Title: Ichikawa Danjuro VII with Elaborate Robe featuring Neck-Wrestling Benkei
Series: Eiyu  mitate junin otoko (Prosperous Actors of Kabuki as Ten Dandy Men)
Date: Ca. 1848

Benkei Dazaemon looks left as he holds his towel and allows the viewer to admire his kimono. It seems to be Sawamura Sojuro V playing this role. We see Benkei’s famous seven weapons forming the edge of the title cartouche. The upper part of his kimono is decorated with  a rushing mountain stream and clouds. The bottom half of the kimono has a scene of the princess playing a game of kubi-hiki (neck-wrestling) with the young Benkei, oni waka, (ogre child) in front of a huge bell of the Nara Todaiji Temple, with which Benkei is strongly associated. The attendant to the princess with a parasol seems to be rather embarrassed by this situation. 

Regarding this series of ten actor portraits, the first word, eiyu, is a play on words, as it is normally written as 英雄, meaning “ hero“ (of a war). However here  eiyu  is written as 栄優, referring to “the most popular actors. The second word, mitate, means “comparison” and junin otoko means “ten men”. In  Kabuki “Date-otoko” means “ninkyo,“ men of chivarlous spirit, namely those with the edokko (Edoite) temperament. They are very popular figures of Kabuki dramas. 

The actors in this set wear similar styles of kimono and the attributes of dandy men of Edo. These include a sword, a shakuhachi flute, a tobacco pouch, and a towel.  On each fantastic kimono design we see  the related scene of the actors and their roles in Kabuki drama. The name of the series is followed by the subtitles with the names of their famous kabuki roles. Although Kunisada omits the names of the actors, he puts many visual hints related to the stories and the actors , especially the scenes on their kimono layers and the symbols on the obi sash belts and towels.  Therefore the people of Edo at that time knew exactly who they were. Each title cartouche is framed with the specific attributes of the plays. The names of the actors did not appear on the series due to the fact that the censorship under the Tenpo Reforms restricted the publication of Kabuki actors’ portraits. In 1845 the restrictions officially ended; however the publishers of Ukiyo-e were cautious and it is said that they continued to stick to the restrictions. The artists had to be especially creative during this time when it came to actor prints.  (With thanks to Michiko Sato-Grube for her research on this artwork.)

Condition: Excellent impression and color. Very good condition. Binding holes at right and mild pigment transfer on face. Unbacked and untrimmed.
Dimensions: ôban (35.6 x 24.5 cm)
Publisher: Sugi-U
Signature: Upon the request of the publisher (hangimoto no óju )  Kóchóró Toyokuni ga (with Toshidama seal in red)