Kunichika, Comparison of Flowers and the Twelve Months - February (Peach Blossom)

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Comparison of Flowers and the Twelve Months: February (Peach Blossom) - Ichikawa Danjuro IV as Kato Kiyomasa, 1880. Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

We are showing three prints from this little seen series of actor portraits paired with twelve months. Each of the months is itself paired with flowers and there is an explicit comparison between the roles of the actors and the flowers. This type of cryptic allusion is called a mitate and became a dominant genre during the Tempo Reforms of the 1840’s, used by artists as a means to circumvent censorship… one thing standing in for another. The effect was to create a new genre of guessing picture which was popular with the public who were challenged to solve the often baffling symbolism of the prints.

In this print we see Ichikawa Danjuro IV as the warlord Kato Kiyomasa. Kunichika was the  all but the official hagiographer of Danjuro IV, producing hundreds of prints of his career - one hundred alone in one series. Kiyomasa was a daimyo of the sixteenth century and instrumental in the seven year Japanese wars with Korea. He is known to have been fierce, brutal and fearless but was also a cultured man; later becoming a Buddhist and a poet - although he was also known to command anyone who served him to commit suicide if they found themselves reading poetry or dancing. He was also renowned for wearing severe iron armour, the only trace of flamboyance being his helmet, which was a momonari kabuto - or, shaped like a peach. Hence Kunichika picturing the flamboyant Danjuro in one of his familiar roles - that of the great general Kato Kiyomasa - against a background of peach blossom.

Colour, impression and condition are all very good.

25 x 35 cm.