Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Parody of Scenes in Moonlight (Mitate Tsuki zu Kushi): Daybreak, 1855. Oban.
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This delightful print and its companion in this exhibition are from a scarce series by Kunisada from 1855, Parody of Scenes in Moonlight (Mitate Tsuki zu Kushi). A mitate is like a puzzle picture… originally imagined as a method to portray controversial images and yet to avoid the strict censorship that was periodically enforced against artists at the time. The mitate functioned like a cryptic crossword, some were immensely complex, others like this were merely illusory. This series pairs well known actors and scenes from kabuki dramas with subjects derived from nocturnal scenes, scenes viewed by moonlight. In this case, the end of night, at daybreak.
I doubt that this scene with this actor was ever performed… mitate more often than not imagined actors in roles rather than represented actual performances. Kunisada shows the actor Bando Shuka I as Shiranui Daijin, reading a magic scroll by the light of a dying moon. Except… the character is in fact a woman, (a male actor, playing a female magician, who is dressed as a a man) - Princess Wakana. The play tells the story of the young Princess Wakana whose family are wiped out in a feud with another clan. She is rescued by a kindly spider and given the gift of spider magic. The plot tells of her vendetta to take revenge upon the Kikuchi family who were the cause of her downfall. Unusually, Kunisada passes up the opportunity to portray her other manifestation as a gigantic arachnid!
The cartouche for all the prints in the series is decorated with bats at the top and bottom signifying the night. A fine print with deep embossing to the magical scroll, woodgrain visible in the night sky and fine detail to the patterned coat. Colour, impression and condition are all fine.
Publisher Hayashiya Shogoro.
25 x 35 cm.