Kunisada, Nakamura Utaemon IV as Taira no Kiyomori

Nakamura Utaemon IV as Taira no Kiyomori, late 1850’s. Oban.

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This striking and dramatic theatre portrait is of Nakamura Utaemon as Taira no Kiyomori, the 12th century samurai and clan leader who established the Taira family as the most powerful Japan had ever seen, prior to its collapse at the hands of the Minamoto in 1185.

Kiyomori was a ruthless and ambitious man and the eventual loser in the great power struggles that helped to establish the Japanese dynasties for years to come. He is usually pictured by Edo artists as a symbol of remorse and guilt, most famously by Hiroshige, Chikanobu and Yoshitoshi in the garden of his palace at the end of his life contemplating the snowy shapes of the landscape and seeing the skulls of his enemies and victims in every hillock and snowdrift. There is a fine Yoshitoshi portrait of him in hell being taunted by his many victims.

In this print, we see him staring wild eyed at a burning oxcart - a Buddhist metaphor for hell - his garments already being consumed by flames. It is a fine and seminal portrait and one that would be copied by artists such as Kunichika in years to come. The print is a deluxe edition from the early 1860’s, the background is sprinkled with mica, the robes of Kiyomori are burnished with zig-zag shomen-zuri patterns and the cuffs and collars of the kimono are embossed. The flames on his robes are nicely oxidised.

A fine portrait, with exceptional drawing and bold technical additions. The print is full size with margins. Good impression, fine colours and good condition. Some surface wear to the lower left and binding holes to the left edge.

25.4 x 36.8 cm.