Kunichika, Onoe Kikugoro V as Taira no Masakado

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Onoe Kikugoro V as Taira no Masakado, 1890. Oban triptych.

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This stunning and vibrant Kunichika shows the end of the tyrant and war lord Taira no Masakado in 940 AD. The drama is spread across three sheets, arrows flying, lightning crashing all around, a horse bolting, scrabbling to free itself and in the centre sheet the actor Onoe Kikugoro V as  Taira no Masakado, wielding a pole axe and expiring amidst the hail of missiles. In the background is the figure of Taira no Sadamori, sent to kill him as revenge for his insurrection and for the murder of his father and uncle.

Masakado was a real character of the Heian period, a member of the ruling Taira clan, who plotted to overthrow the government and claim the title of Emperor. After his defeat and death at the battle of Kojima in 940, his head was taken to the capital in a basket and buried on a low hill near the Kanda Shrine, overlooking the Imperial palace. Locals who respected his defiance, and feared his curse, believed his spirit watched over the surrounding areas. It was rumoured that when his shrine fell into disrepair, Masakado's angry spirit wrought natural disasters and plagues upon the nearby lands. It is also said that Tokugawa Ieyasu felt uncomfortable to have his castle built close to such a powerful spirit, and so decided to move Kanda Shrine to its modern location.

The actor Onoe Kikugoro V took the pen name Baiko and was a close friend of Kunichika’s throughout the last decades of his life. Kunichika immortalised Baiko by drawing a series of 100 portraits of his famous roles.

This is a very good example of a not well known Kunichika. The print is in good condition overall but there are some issues with thinning and the red pigment has spread in places due perhaps to printing onto damp paper.

Publisher: Ishii Rokunosuke.

69 x 36 cm.