Kuniyoshi, 12 Acts of the Lantern Chushingura - Ichikawa Ibizo as Moronao

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Twelve Acts of the Lantern Chushingura: Act 1, Ichikawa Ebizo as Moronao, 1852 Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

A rare and very interesting print by Kuniyoshi, depicting the villain Moronao from the famous kabuki drama Chushingura. A confusing issue for scholars is that censorship restrictions meant that frequently the historical characters were given the names of the theatrical players in the kabuki version of the story, as is the case with this print. This is  perhaps the most famous drama of kabuki theatre and the real historical characters are still revered today at their shrine and in films, books, plays and cartoons. The kabuki story tells of the suicide of Enya Hangan, based on the real character of Asano Takumi-no-kami Naganori who in 1701 was forced to draw his sword in the Shogun’s palace by the goading  of the courtier Moronao, in reality Kira Yoshinaka. Hangan is obliged to commit suicide for the offence and his retainers become Ronin, leaderless samurai. They vow revenge and the play revolves around their plotting and preparation, culminating in the storming of Moronao’s house and his eventual assassination. The characters are always portrayed in a black and white dogtooth garb.

This is one of a series of humorous prints by Kuniyoshi which are very collectible. In this series, Kuniyoshi depicts the actors in the foreground of the print and other players are shown as lanterns in the cartouche in the background. The series title is at the right of the print, surrounded by the distinctive black and white design that Kuniyoshi rather made his own. In earlier versions, the acts are portrayed as history; by 1852, the laws were relaxed enough for Kuniyoshi to depict kabuki actors - in this case Ichikawa Ebizo.

This is a rare print, very distinctively drawn - Moronao looking like a typical villain - Johnny Depp as a pirate. The humour of the lantern figures recalls western pumpkin lanterns at halloween. The piece is in very good condition with fine colour and impression. Subtle, patterned shomenzuri burnishing to the hat.

Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga. Published by Mita-ya Kihachi.

36cm x 25cm.