Kuniyoshi, The 5 Festivals - Tanabata

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Five Festivals (Go sekku no uchi) Tanabata (July 7th) Star Festival, 1849. Oban.

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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.

Tanabata meaning "Evening of the seventh” is also known as the Star Festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the calendar. The date of Tanabata varies, but the first festivities begin on July 7 of the Gregorian calendar. The celebration is held at various days between July and August.

Kuniyoshi is really illustrating Bando Shuka I in the female role as the waitress Okaji, the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV as Hoshu daijin (standing left), and Nakamura Fukusuke I (standing right). The design is beautifullly composed and delicately coloured and there is a very fine touch to the meeting of the patterns and colours of the costumes. The cartouche features the star-like flowers of the morning glory plant.

A great print from a rare series, colour impression and condition are all fine.

36 x 25cm.