Kunisada, Sawamura Tanosuke III as Kiritaro from Toyokuni Manga Zue

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Sawamura Tanosuke III as Kiritaro, from Toyokuni Manga Zue (Toyokuni's Caricatures) 1860. Oban.

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Surely one of Kunisada’s finest series and certainly one of the best regarded. The prints are very sensually produced with rich colours and materials and a very particular choice of subject. The characters are all kabuki stars, but there is a greater than usual number of magicians, warlocks and demons amongst the cast. Production values were very high: thick hosho paper, mica sprinkled backgrounds (available now after years of moralising prohibition), and rich overprinted and highly pigmented inks.

This print shows the kabuki actor Sawamura Tanosuke III, (a contemporary of Kunisada’s) as Kogakure no Kiritaro. Kiritaro is an obscure character, appearing in the long and complex multi volume chronicles of myth and history of medieval Japan, the Kyokyaku Suikoden. His most famous appearance is as a magician using his power to summon a gigantic snake which he dramatically rides into conflict against attackers in a famous print by Yoshitsuya. Many writers confuse Kogakure no Kiritaro with the similar sounding ‘Kintaro’ but although they share certain traits they are not the same person.

The print is a mitate, the actor never played the character and I’m not convinced that there was a play written for the kabuki theatre in which he features. Nevertheless, here he is in a wonderful print of tremendous richness, conjuring a bat from a dipper of water. Clearly the specificity of the image suggests an obscure story that is now sadly lost to us. Kunisada shows Kiritaro concentrating on the mystical flames emanating from a traditional water dipper used in temple ceremonials. Mystical flames emanate from the dipper… a sure sign in ukiyo-e that this is a supernatural event. As a consequence a bat and ginkgo leaves fall from the mica sprinkled sky.

This is a very fine print. Extremely rare indeed for some reason… there are no records of it in any of the museum collections and I cannot find it for sale anywhere. The print is on thick paper, album backed and the colour, (including mica powder) is fine. The impression is fine… crisp and deeply incised and no shrinkage to the blocks. The dark sky background is densely over-printed and is especially dark and well modulated. There are creases to the extreme top and left margins from old Japanese album insertion but no binding holes. There are some surface marks and some wear to the edges but generally very fine.

Published by Uoya Eikichi.

26.5 x 38 cm.