Hirosada, A Collection of Elegant Poems (Furyu Hokku Awase)

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864)  A Collection of Elegant Poems (Furyu hokku awase), 1849. Deluxe Chuban.

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A stunning… and as far as I can tell, unique piece. The drama portrayed here (albeit discreetly) is Honcho itoya no musume  and the principal character is the actor Kataoka Gado II playing the role of Honchomaru Tsunagoro. There is so much to look at in this wonderful print. The series of eight prints are mitate upon selected elegant haiku poems… each poem is used to illustrate a scene from a theatre production, the idea being to circumvent the censorship forbidding the portrayal or naming of actors - particularly stringent in Osaka in the 1840’s. In this outstanding design, we see two actors set against a roughly tied wooden scaffold. A villainous bandit raises a a sword above his head with one hand and with the other hand, he holds down the erect body of his victim.

What an enigma the second figure is. The character exists separately from the clothed figure. Whilst they are entangled, the vaulting, diving figure occupies a strangely static space… neither struggling nor falling but acrobatically poised between the upper and lower portion of the print… his extended feet protrude into the margin at the top of the print. He is a liminal figure existing in and out of the reality of the principal drawing… and, he is strangely, hauntingly familiar.

I have seen this figure in the work of Kuniyoshi and Kunisada. He has his roots in western art, as can be seen by the style of drawing used which adds in this print to his feeling of 'otherness'. The clearest relative is that of English visionary and engraver William Blake. Blake made various studies and illustrations of the figure of The Simoniac Pope 1824–7 from Dante’s Inferno XIX, 31–126, showing the punishment of the Simoniacs in the third trench of the eighth circle. Virgil clasps Dante to carry him away from the wrath of Pope Nicolas III, whose punishment for simony was to be suspended head downwards in a well of fire until replaced by another Pope guilty of the same sin.

It is likely that either engravings of this or similar western archetypes reached Japan and were copied into the vocabulary of Japanese print artists.  An essay on this subject can be found at our eblogger site.

The colour, condition and impression of this deluxe print are all fine.

Published by Kinkado.

25 x 17.5 cm.