Hirosada, 12 Signs of the Zodiac Alluded - Ox

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Twelve Signs of the Zodiac Alluded: Ox, 1850. Deluxe Chuban Diptych.

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These smaller chuban prints, produced in Osaka in the mid nineteenth century are like lids of jewel boxes. Dense colours and crisp outlines delineate fantastic scenes and some of the most elusive and brilliantly realised portraits of the nineteenth century. This print by the great Osaka artist Hirosada is from a series that combines actor scenes with signs of the zodiac.

This print is one of twelve in a zodiac series featuring scenes from well known kabuki plays. The 1841 Tenpo Reforms in Japan were especially harsh in the city of Osaka. They were an unsuccessful attempt to restore order in society by tightening essentially moral codes on behaviour. In print-making this meant: no prints of more than three sheets; no more than eight colours per print; and no subjects connected to actors, theatres or prostitution. Artists began to circumvent these laws by not printing the names of actors  and setting actor prints within series such as this, or prints purporting to be landscapes.

In this print, Hirosada draws a scene from a famous kabuki drama, Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami. The main character, Michizane (called Shojo in the stage plays) played by Mimasu Daigoro IV,  rides the ox which puts a theatre print into a zodiac series. Kataoka Gado II as Umeomaru kneels in the left sheet. The large rectangular cartouche with red background is the title of the series. Next to this is a roundel with the zodiac sign. And finally, there is a smaller rectangular cartouche next to each actor which has the name of the role that this actor plays.

The drama Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami portrays the life of the great diplomat, Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). The play is confusing because it randomly drags in the story of triplets (current in newspapers when the play was being written), named after  trees, Matsu (Pine), Ume (Plum) and Sakura (Cherry). Sugawara is wrongly accused of treason and exiled - a number of fanciful dramas were written about him and he is often portrayed, as here riding an ox.  The print shows Michizane  in exile, a sage… reading a text with a messenger in the form of his brother from the mainland.

A beautiful design, the colour and impression are excellent. Condition is good with light soiling and some surface marks. A contemporaneous collector has written the actors' names next to the roles.

37cm x 25cm.