Kunisada, Kabuki Stage Scene

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Kabuki Scene, ca. 1852. Oban triptych.

A magnificent Kunisada triptych of a kabuki stage scene. We've been unable to identify the play or the actors; however this is most likely related to the No play Shakkyo. In this, a dance is performed before the symbolic backdrop of a large pine tree flanked by bamboo which is copied from the stage. This scenery has no connection with the dance's content. The first section features a pair of kabuki actors who come to dance the story of the lion parent and cub. The actors each carry a wooden mask of a lion head, one with white hair representing the parent (shishi) lion and the other with red hair to represent its child. A shishi is a mythological lion-like animal said to be the king of beasts and always associated with the Buddhist deity Monju. For this reason, any portrayal of the shishi should not only bring out its wild, bestial nature, but also a sense of dignity and authority that goes with this divine status. The shishi is in many ways a spiritual creature.

This is an exquisite woodblock print, three oban sheets joined and backed onto japanese paper that includes an old decorative border. It is likely that this has been in an album, hence the condition and the colour of the print are as new. The impression is fine and there is no damage to the surface. An outstanding kabuki subject.