Kunichika, Nakamura Shikan as Tadanobu and Sawamura Tossho as Yoshitsune

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Nakamura Shikan as Tadanobu and Sawamura Tossho as Yoshitsune in a scene from Yoshitsune Sembon Zakura, 1867. Oban Triptych.

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This is a stunning woodblock triptych by Kunichika… opaque, impenetrable even, at first. On the left is gyrating, dancing, twisting figure - look how Kunichika has drawn the entire body with sharp, pointed shapes, even to the ends of the actor’s wig - this the fox shape shifting character, Tadanobu. How this contrasts to the figure on the right, that of the great warrior and leader, Yoshitsune… Japan’s King Arthur. He is drawn in statelier lines altogether with a royal crane and brooding thunder clouds on his coat.

The strange red fires that hover in the centre sheet are ‘fox fires’, signifying the occurrence of a supernatural event… in this case the appearance of Tadanobu.  

The print shows the actor Nakamura Shikan in the role of Sato Tadanobu, a retainer of the hero Yoshitsune. He rescues Yoshitsune’s lover, Shikuza Gozen from Yoshitzune’s brother Yoritomo. In the popular folk tale and the kabuki play Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura ("Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees"), all is not as it seems. Tadanobu (later called Genkuro) is an adopted name and the character Nakamura plays is in fact a kitsune - a shape shifting fox-spirit. Late in the play when Tadanobu is challenged he reveals that the Hatsune drum carried by Yoshitsune is made from the skins of his parents who died four hundred years previously. He has taken the form of Tadanobu in order to retrieve the object. At the conclusion, the fox spirit departs dramatically to a flamboyant dance, returning later to defend Yoshitsune once more.

Kunichika depicts Tadanobu carrying the Hatsune drum made from the flayed skins of his parents in his left hand. He is shown dancing the kitsune-roppo at the conclusion of the dramatic scene.

This is a superb triptych, really… this is as clean, as fresh and as pristine as the day it was printed. The upper section of background is sprinkled with reflective mica, the robes are thickly and richly embossed, the colours thick and luxurious. The impression and condition, as stated are very fine.

72 x 36 cm.