Hirosada, Nakamura Utaemon IV as Taira no Kiyomori

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Nakamura Utaemon IV as Taira no Kiyomori, 1852. Deluxe Chuban.

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A masterpiece of design and printing, this print (illustrated in Schwaab, Osaka Prints p. 212) is so dense that as Schwaab puts it:

It is unusual to find both actor’s role and artist’s signature moved into the margin, but one can well see that the inclusion of these elements inside the border would have ruined the composition, which is so dense that it really leaves no likely spot. The only open space, the white area of the sleeve, is heavily embossed with brocade patterns and could not take the signature.

The print is riven with embossing and metallic inks and, as Schwaab notes, the density of the near abstract design fills every centimetre of the print; from the upraised hand (that can be seen to be holding a sword in the top right) to the vegetable patterns of the headdress and the thunderous clouds of the breast plate. Out of all this fury, emerges the ferocious face of Kiyomori (Utaemon IV).

Kiyomori was a 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. A ruthless and ambitious man, Kiyomori was 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.

A great print, untrimmed with generous margins in very fine condition, the colour and impression are all superb.

19cm x 26cm.