Kunisada, Matches for the 6 Immortal Poets - Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Iwafuji

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Matches for the Six Immortal Poets (Mitate Rokkasen): Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Iwafuji, 1858. Oban.

A fine late Kunisada portrait of an onnagata actor in a famous female role. This series of mitate - pictures that use clues, puns and allusions to link different themes and subjects - pairs the kabuki portrait with a poem by Otomo Kuronushi and an evocative landscape in the upper cartouche.

In the Heian Period of Japan (ninth century), poetry was the height of sophistication and culture, and poets could expect social immortality. Not surprisingly, later commentators had lists of poets whom they dubbed as geniuses or “immortals of poetry”. The most well-known list is the Six Immortals of Poetry or rokkasen. Poor Kuronushi, although included in the rokkasen was latterly demolished, perhaps because of his clan and accused of plagiarism - his poetry described as ‘like an ailing woman wearing cosmetics’ and ‘crude, as though a peasant were resting in front of a flowering tree’.

Iwafuji was a senior lady in waiting at the Imperial Court. Iwafuji plots the downfall of Onoe, her junior, by substituting a sandal for a valuable statue entrusted to Onoe’s care. When the sandal is discovered, Iwafuji publicly beats and humiliates Onoe who leaves, later to commit suicide. In the final scene, Onoe, having killed herself, is avenged by her friend Ohatsu who beats Iwafuji to death with the offending sandal. Kunisada shows Kodanji as Iwafuji in a dramatic pose, beautifully drawn and described bebeath a landscape of mountains. The poem is indecipherable, although this example by Kuronushi seems to fit:

High it rises in Omi / Mirror Mountain / stands high established / reflecting the thousand years / our lord will reign

A fine print, full size with its original, decorative frame. The print is a fine impression both colour and condition are very good.

Published by Yamazakiya Seishichi.

36cm x 25cm.