Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Five Festivals (Go sekku no uchi): Tango (September 9th) Boys' Day, 1849. Oban.
Click here for a detailed enlargement.
This rare and very fine series depicts the five great festivals of Japan likened to scenes from the kabuki play Onna gori goshiki no hana kago. The series is a mitate - in other words the festival is a stand-in subject for the real intention of depicting popular kabuki actors at a time when the decadence of the theatre was being proscribed by the authorities. The effect was to force ukiyo artists to use analogy or metaphor to disguise the real subject of the print.
In reality, as this series shows, there was little attempt at subterfuge and these mitate scenes became merely another genre for the artist to exploit - a game played with the knowing audience. The five festivals are: Jinjitsu (the seven herbs), Joushi (girls' festival), Tango (boys' day), Tanabata (star festival) and Choyo - the last of the Five Major Festivals.
Kuniyoshi depicts Boys' Day by showing the legendary Empress Jingo (Jingu - standing) and her minister Takeshiuchi Sukenene, played by Bando Shuka and Nakamura Kanemon IV respectively. Empress Jingo (AD169 - 269?) is possibly a romantic invention, but there are plenty of references to her in ancient Japanese texts. Jingo reputedly was warlike and fierce, leading a Japanese army to invade Korea, although there is little evidence of Japanese rule there at this time. In order not to delay her invasion plans whilst pregnant, she is said to have tied a heavy stone to her waist, putting off the birth of her son (Emperor Ojin) by many months. Kuniyoshi borrows the scene almost in its entirety from a Kunisada depiction of the same subject: Empress Jingu and her Minister, from the series Banners for Parlour Decorations of 1835. Kuniyoshi omits the child which the minister is holding in the Kunisada design.
A great print from a rare series, colour, impression and condition are all fine.
36 x 25cm.