Kunisada: No U Akasaka; Actor Nakamura Utaemon IV and Comet

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Title: No U Akasaka
Series: Edo no hana meisho-e 江戸廼花名勝会 (Flowers of Edo and Views of Famous Places)
Date: 1863

Nakamura Utaemon IV is shown lower right. At left is a scene from a festival float and above we see a comet flaming across the top left, outside the confines of the border and shown against a constellation of stars. The MFA Boston has many works from this series, but this design is not among them.

The term “flowers of Edo” (Edo no hana) can refer, among other things, to fires. The title panel for each print in this series shows the lanterns and identifying standard (matoi) for one of the brigades of firefighters (hikeshi) assigned to various districts. On the west side of the Sumida River were 48 brigades named for the symbols of the kana syllabary and grouped into 8 numbered groups (1 to 10, minus the bad-luck numbers 4 and 7). On the east side of the river, brigades were numbered and assigned to directional groups. Outlying districts were covered by special brigades, here designated “extra” (bangai). Each title gives the name or number of a brigade, its group, and its district, followed by the kabuki scene chosen to match it. Each print highlights the most famous aspects of an individual district in Edo, and includes a scene from the district and a kabuki actor portrait that relates to the place in some way. There is a lot going on in each design, as in the upper right are the standards and lanterns for specific fire brigades, and on the upper left are usually magic lantern slides. Then there are one or two designs that comprise the lower portion, with Kunisada designing the actor portrait and various (21! in total for the series) other artists designing the landscape scenes. 

Condition: Very good impression, color and condition. 
Dimensions: ôban (35 x 24 cm)
Publisher: Katôya Iwazoô (Seibei)
Literature: See MFA, FAMSF (Achenbach) museums online for other works from this series. A reference book has been privately published by Simon Henry that examines this entire series.
Signature: Toyokuni ga