Kunichika, Magic in the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900). Magic in the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac: Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Jiraiya, 1877. Oban.

This fine series is not so well known and the prints from it are rare to find in good condition. All the prints in the series pair one of the buddhist signs of the zodiac with an appropriate or related actor in a scene from history or kabuki. Not all of the references are to actual plays and it is possible that some of the scenes are imagined. For more information on the zodiac and its treatment in ukiyo-e see our blog post on the subject.

The series borrows very heavily from Kunisada’s 1862 series A Contest of Magic Scenes. This is another anomalous print in as much as the subject appears to be an eagle and of course the eagle was not among the twelve creatures selected by the Buddha that comprise the Japanese zodiac. It is possible that Kunichika is referencing the cockerel but the connection seems tenuous. Nevertheless, the print represents Jiriaiya, one of the great heroes of Japanese folklore. Jiraiya learnt shape shifting magic and is normally associated with assuming the shape of a toad. In kabuki (presumably for aerial effect) he is also shown arriving on an eagle as pictured here. 

This is a beautifully produced print, fine condition, mounted on Japanese album paper, the  colour is also very fine as is the impression, mica sprinkled on the lacquer of the eagle’s wing.

Published by Ueki Rinnosuke.

We have other prints from this series not in this show - please enquire if you would like more information.

36cm x 24cm.