Kiyosada, Actor as Moronao

Utagawa Kiyosada (active 1848) Actor as Moronao from The Chushingura, 1848. Deluxe Chuban.

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This fantastic portrait - truly a study in evil - is of the arch villain of Japanese revenge dramas, 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 who in 1701 was forced to draw his sword in the Shogun’s palace by the goading  of the courtier Moronao. 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.

The print comes from a short series by Kiyosada where each of the prints has the very distinctive wood grain background in red. The portrait itself and the distinctive hat has echoes in a similar print by Kuniyoshi of the same subject. 

Colour, impression and condition are all fine, the print is trimmed to the image.

16cm x 24cm.