Utagawa Kunisada(1786-1865) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital: The Ogiya Restaurant, 1852. Oban.
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This very arresting image is a portrait in fact of the kabuki theatre actor Ichikawa Ebizô V as Kumagai Naozane. This tragic, romantic figure was a famous soldier known for his exploits during the Genpei War, specifically for killing the young warrior Taira no Atsumori at the battle of Ichi-no-tani in 1184.
During the battle, they met on the beach at Suma, as the main Genji force approached and the Heike fled to their ships. As it is told in the novel, Heike Monogotari, Kumagai caught up with Atsumori, who was fleeing on horseback. Kumagai managed to throw Atsumori from his horse and ripped off the helmet of the prone Atsumori. It was then that he realised that he had caught a young prince. Atsumori then tells Kumagai to kill him, but Kumagai hesitates because Atsumori reminded him of his own son. Kumagai wished to spare Atsumori's life, due to his kind nature, but saw that his fellow Genji soldiers were approaching. Tearfully he promises to recite prayers to Atsumori, and cuts off his head.
After taking the time to look through Atsumori's belongings, he found a flute, known as the "Saeda" (Little Branch). Discovering that the flute was given to Taira no Tadamori by Emperor Toba, and later passed down to Atsumori, he reportedly felt even more sadness and regret for his actions. That morning, Kumagai had heard someone playing the flute with skill outside the enemy camp, and he now realized that that flute player may have been Atsumori. (Taken from, The Tales of the Heike, Translated by Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, 2006.)
Kumagai felt such remorse that he went on to forswear violence and pursue a monastic life. This print shows a kabuki actor - Ichikawa Ebizo V - in the role. Intriguingly, the landscape above his head showing the beachfront restaurant is drawn by Hiroshige, the famous Edo landscape artist. The series from which this is taken was commissioned from the two leading artists of the day by the publisher Fujiokaya Keijiro, presumably at the behest of the forty-nine restaurants who had paid to be included. The relationship of each actor or subject to the restaurants can really only be guessed at at this distance… perhaps the Ogiya Restaurant pictured here was situated on the beach at Suma… . The series is well known and often reproduced; the designs are of a very high quality as is the block cutting and reproduction. This print is no exception, the portrait is deeply expressive - Naozone’s lip curls in bitter remorse, his robes are deeply embossed and the gradual bokashi shading in the background is skilfully executed. Condition and impression are fine but there has been some fading to the yellow block. The blocks were cut by the legendary cutter Hori Yasu. A copy of this print is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Publisher: Fujiokaya Keijirô (Shôrindô).
Blockcutter: Uemura Yasugorô (Hori Yasu).
36 x 25 cm.