Kunisada, Nakamura Fukusuke and Bando Takesaburo in Sanja Matsuri

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Nakamura Fukusuke and  Bando Takesaburo in the Dance Sanja Matsuri, 1855. Oban.

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This exciting design by Kunisada illustrates a kabuki dance called Sanja Matsuri, (the Three Shrine Festival). Kunisada plays with the design in order to make this unusual composition… those kanji hanging in the clouds!

Two fishermen are at work in their boat. Suddenly two uncanny globes, which are set in clouds, position themselves over the two men, one cloud on top of each head. One ball symbolises good and the other evil. The clouds go down and cover the heads of the fishermen. Then, they rise up in the sky and the two fishermen are now masked, one with the symbol aku, meaning evil, and the other with the symbol zen, meaning good. The dance goes on in a lively atmosphere, with Akuo (the fisherman with the evil mask), doing his best to tempt Zen'o (the fisherman with the good mask) to lead him on the road to wrong doing.

The Three Shrine Festival is very famous. It commemorates two fishermen, Hamanari and Takenari  who find a gold statue of the goddess Kannon in the river. The statue  was made into a memorial and after the deaths of the fishermen, they too were memorialised. The festival is still celebrated in May each year to ensure a large catch of fish.

A lovely and unusual kabuki theatre print. Colour and impression are fine with distinct woodgrain printed in the background. Some slight scuffing but over all condition very good. Cheesecloth embossing to the neckerchiefs.

36.5 x 25.5 cm.