Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) The Five Festivals (Go Sekku no Uchi): Satsuki, c 1854. Oban.
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A beautiful and rich print, dark and brooding, with its warrior figures, ominous descending cuckoo and torrential rain. The print depicts actors in the roles of two hero warriors from the great romance and revenge tragedy the Soga Monogatari. The play is based on the story of the Soga brothers, one of the three major revenge stories in Japanese history. The two samurai depicted in this print are Nitta Tadatsune and Soga no Sukenari. Soga no Sukenari’s father was killed by Nitta Tadatsune’s lord, Kuto, murdered in turn, by Soga and his brother. In the end, Nitta Tadatsune takes revenge on his lord by killing Soga no Sukenari. The play is not at all mindful of the truth of course, it being kabuki!
There is a good summary of the Soga story here. In the twelfth century two rival lords fell out and Lord Kuto killed Lord Ito who left two infant boys, Juro and Goro. Their mother remarried and they took their stepfather’s name Soga. At five, they vowed revenge on their father’s death and by maturity they were committed to carry out the plan. In 1192 on the occasion of a hunting party, they ambushed Kuto, slaying him in his tent. They were set upon by Kuto’s retainers who killed Juro and captured Goro. Despite the justice of their case, Goro was executed on the orders of the Shogun.
The print is nominally about one of the five festivals, Tango. The five festivals are: Jinjitsu (the seven herbs), Joushi (girls' festival), Tango (boys' day), Tanabata (star festival) and Choyo. Kunisada has used this story either because of the two 'boys' depicted or because the play was performed at the time of the festival in May. These festival prints were a popular way for artists to circumvent the prohibition on actor portraits in the dying years of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
It is a beautiful design, colour, impression and condition are all fine.
Published by Joshuya Kinzo.
35 x 24 cm.
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