signed Kikugawa Eizan hitsu, with censor's seal kiwame (approved) and publisher's seal Mi (Mikawaya Seiemon), ca. 1814-17
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 5/8 in., 36.6 by 24.5 cm
The courtesan Akoya, stands bundled up in multiple layers of robes, she wears a dramatic black and gold embroidered obi which is tied loosely in the front, and the sleeves of her outer-robe hang limp because she has pulled her arms inside seeking the warmth against her body. Her musical talents are suggested by the instruments in the background: a koto and a shamisen or kokyu (both are three-stringed instruments), and what appears to be the bow used with a kokyu.
The inset cartouche illustrates a male puppet being manipulated by puppeteers discretely clad in all black. The puppet is Chichibu Shigetada from the Bunraku play Dan no Ura Kabuto Gunki which was first staged in Osaka in 1732, and adapted for kabuki a few months later in 1733. This print references the famous 'torture' scene, in which Shigetada, investigating the whereabouts of the rebel Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo, brings his lover, the courtesan Akoya, to court in order to question her. Akoya insists that she has no idea where Shigetada is hiding. After being threatened by an assortment of instruments of torture from another villainous character, Akoya is commanded by Shigetada to play three instruments of music, a koto, a shamisen, and a kokyu. She begins with the koto and sings with a pure heart of her love of Kagekiyo, and then moves on to the shamisen and finishes with the kokyu. Her performance is so perfect and so mesmerizing, Shigetada declares that a liar could not create such music and orders her release. Only the most elite onnagata (actors specializing in female roles) were capable of performing the role of Akoya because of the talent and expertise required to sing and play all three instruments.
Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art
Publisher: Mikawaya Seiemon
Eiko Kondo, ed., Eizan, Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, 1996, p. 100, nos. 262-263 (series)
About Kikukawa Eizan
Japanese, 1787-1867, Japan, based in Japan