Hirosada, Ichikawa Ebizo V as the Ghost of Natora

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Ichikawa Ebiso V as the Ghost of Natora, 1849. Deluxe chuban triptych.

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This exceptional print is one of Hirosada’s finest, deluxe triptychs of this period. The whole composition excels but the ghost of Natora on the right-hand sheet is a tremendous explosion of drawing, colour, applied metals, pattern and design. The plot of the play from  which this is drawn, Hana Kurabe Ise Monogatari  is lost, as is the case with so many Kamigata (Osaka region) plays.

The central character seen in the left-hand sheet is that of Jitsukawa Enzaburo as Ono no Takamura. Takamura is a great character from Japanese myth, based on a nobleman, scholar, poet, and government official who lived in the first half of the 9th century. Near the temple Rokudochinno-ji in Kyōto, there is a spot where the boundary between the world of the dead and the world of the living can be crossed. Takamura knew of this, and discovered a way to travel freely between the world of the dead and the world of the living. He would enter the underworld every night by climbing down a well located in the garden of Rokudochinno-ji, and return every morning by climbing out of a well located in the temple Sagano Fukusei-ji.

The play is probably based on a legend  about a nobleman who fell very ill and died soon after. His soul crossed the Sanzu River to be judged. When he reached the court of King Enma, a familiar voice spoke up from the darkness and said, “I know this soul. In life, he served as an imperial minister, and was a noble and virtuous man. Please trust my judgment and return him to life.”

When  he raised his head, he saw that the voice belonged to Ono no Takamura serving as one of Enma’s councillors. Enma ordered his guards to return Yoshimi to the world of the living. Kataoka Ichizo plays the central character, Kajaku Saburo.

The triptych is superbly luxurious, wonderfully printed. The ghost of Natora on the right is a minor masterpiece; the other figures crackle with metallic inks, embossing and burnishing. A truly splendid piece. The three sheets are joined to original Japanese album backing. The sheets are more or less full size with some margin showing and some slight trimming to internal joints. Condition overall is excellent with some oxidation to the metallics; impression and colour over all are outstanding. I know of one other copy only in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

53.5 x 25 cm.