Kunichika, Bando Mitsugoro as Princess Wakana Enchanting a Spider

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Bando Mitsugoro as Princess Wakana Enchanting a Spider from the play Shiranui Monogatari, 1871. Oban Triptych.

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This exciting print by Kunichika shows kabuki actors Nakamura Shikan and Onoe Kikugoro V, with Bando Mitsugoro playing Princess Wakana enchanting a spider, from the kabuki play Shiranui Monogatari; the spider in the background is enormous and looms above the whole scene.

The play tells the story of the young Princess Wakana whose family are wiped out in a feud with another clan. She is rescued by a kindly spider and given the gift of spider magic. The plot tells of her vendetta to take revenge upon the Kikuchi family who were the cause of her downfall. Kunichika pictures the scene where, disguised as a man, Wakana uses the magic of the spider scroll to conjure a gigantic beast to assist her in her fight with Akisaku, a retainer of the Kikuchi. The scene was a favourite among artists for the obvious reason of the gigantic arachnid

Intriguingly the British Museum has an 1872 photographic print of Onoe Kikugoro V as Toriyama Inuchiyo (later called Akisaku Terutada) and Nakamura Shikan IV as Inuchiyo's nurse Akishino.  The photograph is an opportunity to see how ukiyo-e artists pictured the theatre as distinct from the very different, literal depiction of the photograph.

Well, this print has had a hard life. Probably (like so many) the pieces were used as packaging at some point and rescued by a collector. The paper is thin and there are many scuffs and creases. The print is on sale in fair condition elsewhere for £600. The condition of the print is reflected in the very low price. Nevertheless a bargain print for such a riveting design.

76.5 x 37 cm.