Yoshitaki, Jitsukawa Enzaburo as Yuranosuke

Utagawa Yoshitaki (ca 1841 - 1899) Jitsukawa Enzaburo as Yuranosuke, ca. 1850. Deluxe Chuban.

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The kabuki actor Jitsukawa Enzaburo playing the role of Yuranosuke in the revenge drama The Chushingura. The great revenge drama of Japanese theatre - the Kanadehon Chushingura of 1848 - is the stage dramatisation of a real incident that occurred in 1702. The stringent censorship at the time prevented the portrayal of recent events, and so the setting and many of the characters have been transposed to the fifteenth century. Hence the subject of the play - the enforced suicide of feudal Lord Asano of Ako and the revenge of 47 of his now redundant retainers (ronin) - becomes the suicide of Lord Enya Hangen, a character borrowed from another story and embroidered to fit the role. Of course, theatre audiences and the disenchanted townspeople would have known all of this, and to emphasise the point, actors and artists were comfortable to use the Asano family crest on their cobbled together stage persona.  

In this print, Yoshitaki portrays the fictional figure of Oboshi Yuranosuke, an obvious alias for Oishi Kuranosuke, the chief retainer of Asano Naganori. In folklore, he is portrayed as a calm, determined man of steely principle. A man who would forsake his life and 46 of his comrades to go against the verdict of the courts and exact their own justice. Hence portraits of him show a man composed and at home with his own certain fate. We see him here against a snowy background, hand awkwardly raised in a strange and haunting composition.

The print is in the manner of Hirosada and is very beautifully coloured with blind embossing and touches of bronze pigments to the lower parts. The snowfall against the grey sky in the background is particularly lovely. Another print of the same character in the same role is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

18cm x 25cm.