Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Pictorial Mirror Stands Matched with Thirty Selected Flowers: Akitsushima, 1845. Oban.
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This brilliant print is a mitate… a print that is also a puzzle. These sorts of print were designed to get around the censorship laws called the tenpo reforms that prevailed in Edo in the 1840’s. It’s quite rare, a Kuniyoshi actor print from a relatively unknown series of which only 16 are known. A copy exists in the MFA Boston, but they do not identify the actor.
The print shows an actor, Kataoka Nizaemon VIII, in the role of Akitsushima Kuniemon, a top sumo wrestler known as a sekitori who performs in one of the two highest professional divisions, from the play Sekitori Nidai no Shobuzuke. The actor is presumably backstage… a popular and thrilling thought for the kabuki fan, regarding himself in a mirror. These mirrors were popular in Edo Japan with women and actors. The polished metal (not glass) is framed with padded, decorative material. Surrounding this material are the blooms of Azami a Japanese thistle, recalling one of the all time bad guys of kabuki, Seikichi, sometimes known as oni-azami or Demon Thistle.
The play, Sekitori Nidai no Shobuzuke is a piece of moral dilemma: Akitsushima Kuniemon is obliged to throw a sumo bout in order to rescue his partner from prostitution. A familiar kabuki tale!
A very nice Kuniyoshi, an unusual series and a pleasing mitate. The print is overall in excellent condition, some slight trimming to the lower margin. Colour and impression very fresh. The print is also in the MFA collection, Boston.
Publisher: Joshuya Kinzo.
25 x 36 cm.