Kunisada, The Sanbaso Dance Performed by Nakamura Shikan IV

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) The Sanbaso Dance Performed by Nakamura Shikan IV, 1860. Oban.

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This superb print by Kunisada shows the kabuki actor Nakamura Shikan the IV dressed as a mandarin duck, performing a comic dance as part of a larger, quasi-mystical dance cycle called the Kotobuki Shiki Sanbaso.  The print probably commemorates the change of name for the actor… an important step in his career, progressing from Nakamura Fukusuke I in the seventh month of 1860.

This ancient dance derives from the very earliest of Japanese theatres that predate even Noh dramas. Said to be inspired by the sight of an old man dancing outside a shrine and beneath an ancient pine tree, the dance developed as an homage to the very inspiration to perform. It is usually performed on felicitous occasions (possibly here to celebrate the actor’s name change), and involves dances by a character performing as the old man of legend, a character carrying a magical mask in a box called Senzai, and ultimately Sanbaso who confers further blessings for prosperity on the audience with a stick of bells, which represent grains of rice and harks back to the agricultural origins of many Shinto ceremonies. It may also have echoes of demon-quelling rituals. The dance ends with further blessings being conferred upon the theatre.

This is a striking print, exquisitely executed, with all of the hallmarks of Kunisada’s late greatness. Colour, impression and condition are all fine, bold and dramatic overprinting with embossing to the feathers.

24 x 36 cm.