Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Dashing Roles in New Plays: Nakamura Shikan IV as Goshaku Somegoro, 1860. Oban.
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This is a superb, fresh print, almost like new in its crispness and brilliant colour and condition. The subject matter is enigmatic, or at least vanishing from our knowledge. The print comes from an 1860 series of actor bust portraits of very high production quality indeed. It shows the actor Nakamura Shikan IV as Goshaku Somegoro. He appears to have been a member of the Megumi firefighters, identified by the magnificent red lantern that he is holding aloft. Fires were a regular hazard among the densely populated city of wooden houses, the firefighters were bold, daring figures… dashing, as the title of the series suggests.
The figure of Goshaku Somegoro appears in several known prints that commemorate a popular kabuki play, Shochikubai Yushima no Kakegaku (The story of Oshichi). Yaoya Oshichi was a young greengrocer's daughter born in 1667 whose family took refuge in a temple following one of the frequent Tokyo (Edo) fires. There she met and fell in love with a temple page, Kichisa. Oshichi thought that if she started another fire she would be able to shelter longer and stay with the boy she loved. Sadly, her arson was witnessed by others and she was found guilty and burnt at the stake as punishment. There was subsequently a great deal of sympathy for the fate of the girl, principally because of her age. The kabuki drama was based on her life and death, however the circumstances were changed to show Oshichi sounding the temple fire alarm in order to see Kichisa. The conclusion remained the same since the false sounding of the alarm was also punishable by death.
Somegoro was one of the firemen on the scene and appears in other dramas and prints. This print glows with immense beauty and restrained elegance. One small wormhole, otherwise very fine condition. Colour and impression are perfect. A rare series.
Publisher Kiya Sojiro.
36cm x 24cm.