Kunisada, A Calendar of Hit Plays Compared with Picture Plays - Dragon

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) A Calendar of Hit Plays Compared with Picture Plays - Zodiac Sign: Dragon, 1852. Oban.

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A stunning print, rich in carving and detail and beautiful hand applied, splashed gofun - the white crests of the water are applied without blocks by splashing ink made from ground shells. The print is from a series begun in 1852, the date of this early print, and completed not until 1862! The series is a mitate, this time comparing actors - two per print - with both elements and signs of the zodiac. The sign illustrated on this print is the fifth sign - the dragon. The characters are Princess Yumi, in the cartouche and Matsunaga Daizan in the foreground. Matsunaga’s kimono is richly embroidered with a dragon, giving the image of the zodiac sign to the print.

The play from which the two characters are drawn, Gion Sairei Shinkoki, is complicated and the action moves from scene to scene and cast to cast. The scene we are concerned with in this print is the final act. Matsunaga is a scheming nobleman, Yuki the daughter of a painter who has spurred his advances and married another artist. kabuki21 takes up the story:

Daizen takes Princess Yuki to the garden and demands that she draws the picture of a dragon. Princess Yuki refuses on the ground that she has no model to copy. As Daizen draws his sword in front of the waterfall, the reflection of a dragon appears on the face of the waterfall, a phenomenon peculiar to the sword named Kurikaramaru Princess Yuki's father Sesson used to have. No doubt it was Daizen who killed her father and took the sword from him. Princess Yuki attacks Daizen with the sword but he makes his men tie her to a cherry tree and take her husband to a place of execution. A sorrow-stricken Princess Yuki gathers petals of cherry blossoms with her feet and draws a picture of a rat with them. The picture takes life [2] and the "rat" bites through the rope tying her to set her free.

It doesn’t end well I am afraid to say. Nevertheless it is a good example of the storytelling of the mitate…the pairing of the play with the dragon and waterfall with the zodiac sign and so on. The print is simply wonderful, rich and pristine colour and impression… especially fine gofun. Embossing to both collars, burnishing to the blacks of the kimono. Unbacked, unmarked and no blemishes, fine condition.

Published by Ebisuya Shoshich.

24.5 x 36 cm.

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