Hirosada, Actors in "A Courtesan, Honour with Two Swords"

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Actors in A Courtesan, Honour with Two Swords, 1851. Deluxe Chuban Diptych.

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The fighting spirit is writ large in this deluxe chuban… gory and in fact, quite horrifying and moving. The figure on the left who is bleeding to death is that of Ishidome Busuke; he is the servant of the figure on the right, Watanabe Shizuma, a samurai engaged in one of the four great revenge dramas of Japanese theatre. It appears to be an adaptation of a real life vendetta in 1634 at Iga Ueno when Watanabe Kazuma slew Kawai Matador, the murderer of his father, Watanabe Yukie, killed four years earlier. Kazuma was aided by his brother-in-law, the master swordsman Araki Mataemon.

Unusually Hirosada portrays the death scene of the servant, Busuke. He has lost his life in pursuit of his master’s enemy. Here he is, his duty accomplished recounting the last words of his story to a strangely impassive Shizuma. A great deal of attention has been applied to the depiction of the blood, notice the desperate hand prints on the ground and the realistic way that the gore has inundated his clothes. Hirosada has specified two colours… a light pink and a darker overprinted carmine. Elsewhere in the print, as if to compliment the brilliance of the death scene, Hirosada has restricted his palette to just a few shades of blues and greys, a nocturne reminiscent of a study by Whistler in its polychromed brevity.

These Osaka prints with their quiet pathos, exemplify the tragedy of the Edo era male. There is grand braveness in the old myths and stories, especially those of Edo kabuki with its loud and aggressive acting style. But, how many of the prints in this show display the quieter sadness of the terrible burden of duty under which Japanese society was troubled. It seems to me that it is all there in this Hirosada print… the quiet and dignified regret of the faithful servant, the uninterested inquiry of his master, the implied violence to come hinted at in the strong grip that Watanabe has on one of his two swords.

A fine print, dense colours and a superb composition with that darkly arching bridge. Colour, impression and condition all fine.

37 x 25 cm.