Tadakiyo, Ichikawa Danjuro IX as the Ghost of Kagekiyo

Jusoso Tadakiyo (1875-1941) Ichikawa Danjuro IX as The Ghost of Kagekiyo in the play Gedatsu, 1896. Oban.

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This incredibly striking print is of the great warrior, Kagekiyo.  In this print we see the ghost of the great warrior, made up in the startling, full face kabuki make up known as Kumadori. This is a kind of transformational make up that has its roots in religious ritual as much as theatre. The web site the Story Behind the Faces has this to say…

We can glimpse a direct link between the famous makeup for the samurai hero of the Aragato style of Kabuki and the ancient use of makeup in rituals pertaining to spirit worship and shamanic possession, for the samurai’s ability to do the impossible is understood to be because they have allowed themselves to be possessed by a powerful kami (“supernatural deity”) and thus have become hitokami (“man-gods”) and a functionality of any extravagant transformational makeup like this is to generate the suspension of disbelief in the audience so that they can accept the convention that they are in the presence of supernatural beings during the performance.

An early play, based on noh drama. The time is just after the Gempei Civil War (1180-85). A service for the repose of the defeated Taira souls has been prepared, but the temple bell refuses to ring. A mysterious samurai enters, and when pursued, hides beneath the bell. Later, when two Taira refugees, one of them the daughter of Kagekiyo, are caught and about to be executed, the figure emerges from the bell as the ghost of Kagekiyo, and attacks the Minamoto. Attempts are made in vain to exorcise his spirit, but when the robe of a saint is placed on his shoulders, he achieves spiritual release.

The print is one copy from a series of eighteen plays known collectively as Kabuki Juhachiban, and were co-opted as a whole by the Danjuro lineage of actors in 1832. The eighteen plays, some of them parts of plays, others dances, were designed to show of the Danjuro style of acting in its most favourable light. The tradition continued and subsequent generations of Danjuro kept the complete repertoire and made it their own.  This astonishing print from the 1896 series commemorating the Kabuki Juhachiban is widely acknowledged to represent Meiji printmaking at its very best. Not only do the designs - which are all exceptional and dramatic - stand out, but the technical achievement has perhaps never been bettered.  The series is a father and son collaboration between Kiyosada and his son who confusingly for us used several names throughout his career including that of his father. He was an intimate of the last giant of the kabuki stage, Ichikawa Danjuro IX hence this exceptional series of prints.

No expense was spared, the finest paper and inks were used, the whole surface is richly and diversely embossed, the colours and blocks are densely and lusciously printed, the whole piece is an outstanding achievement. Colour, impression and condition are outstanding except for a light stain in the top left. An inferior copy of this print is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

40 x 29 cm.