Hirosada, Tales of Loyalty, Bravery and Filial Devotion (Chuko Buyu-den) - Kiritaro

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Tales of Loyalty, Bravery and Filial Devotion (Chuko Buyu-den): Bando Jutaro II as Kiritaro, 1849. Deluxe Chuban.

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This is a very fine example of  the print of  the actor Bando Jutaro II as Kiritaro by the Osaka School artist Hirosada. There is a copy of the same print in the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art but the condition is not as fine as in this print. The character of Matsuwakamaru appears in the complex plotted kabuki drama, Miyakodori Nagare no Shiranami. Like so many kabuki plays, the plot revolves around the theft and subsequent retrieval of valuable heirlooms. Such things were not just of monetary value, they carried identity and significance beyond mere value.

In the play, the heir to the Yoshida clan, Matsuwakamaru is on the run and seeking the return of the family seal. In the course of the drama, Matsuwakamaru impersonates the bandit chief Kiritaro, and the prostitute Hanako in pursuit of the seal. Despite insurmountable odds, he triumphs in a final scene of effortless cool. We can see that the title of the series - Tales of Loyalty, Bravery and Filial Devotion (Chuko Buyu-den)  - reflects the caution of the artist regarding the very strict Tenpo Reforms that were introduced in the 1840’s, especially in Osaka at this time. The word ‘filial’ is unnecessary in this context and only there to please the state censors who strongly disapproved of actors and the theatre.

Hirosada pictures the unflappable Matsuwakamaru in the role of Kiritaro. The print is a masterpiece of restrained tones, almost entirely realised in monochrome. I think that these chuban head and shoulder portraits are some of the greatest achievements of  Japanese nineteenth century art and of woodblock printing anywhere. They offer restraint, insight and a complete solution to the design and restrictions of the medium. Colour, impression and condition are fine… the discolouration on the sleeve is the slight oxidation of the pigment, considered a refinement of the manufacture and not a stain or flaw. Unbacked. One small wormhole to top margin.

25 x 17.5 cm.