Kunisada, Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) Jiraiya goketsu monogatari, 1852. Oban diptych.

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We have shown copies of these two prints separately and we now have an opportunity to show the two prints reunited and as they were meant originally to be seen.

The pair form a short series - neither a true diptych nor part of an extended set. Horst Grabner on kunisada.de describes this as: a smaller series of half length actor portraits with smiley cartouche.   Of course the play here celebrates the great toad magician Jiraiya, the cartouche is the stylised features of the toad also carrying the title. The first print is of Jiraiya being played by Ichikawa Danjuro, second print is of the tragic Ayame, here played by the kabuki onnagata actor Iwai Kumesaburo III.

The piece probably commemorates the premiere of Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari at the Kawarazaki theatre in 1852 which had Danjuro VIII in the role of Jiraiya. In the legend, Jiraiya is a ninja who uses shapeshifting magic to transform himself into a gigantic toad. As the heir of a powerful clan in Kyushu of the same name, Jiraiya falls in love with Tsunade, a beautiful young maiden who has mastered slug magic. His arch-enemy was his one-time follower Yashagoro, later known as Orochimaru, a master of serpent magic. Jiraiya discovers his estranged sister and in order to create the poison that will avenge the family, Ayame must fatally stab herself  and Jiraiya must use her blood to poison Yashagoro.

Kunisada shows Jiraiya casting a spell on the left sheet and the tragic Ayame, her robes richly embroidered with a serpent (an echo perhaps of the snake magic that requires her self sacrifice) on the right.

The story is the subject of many prints, novels, dramas and more recently films. In Naruto, a popular manga and anime television series, Jiraiya appears as a ninja with the ability to summon giant toads. Alongside the series' versions of Tsunade and Orochimaru, he is part of a trio of legendary ninja known as the Densetsu no Sannin ('Legendary Three Ninja').

The prints are very fine. There is very deep, well preserved embossing to the two sheets, rich and unfaded rare purple pigment and woodgrain raised in the background colour. This is an unusual set and rare to find both of the prints together. Colour, impression and condition are all fine. The Ayame sheet is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Published by Tsujiya Yasube.

48 x 37 cm.