with the role and actor identified at upper left, signed Kunichika hitsu with artist's Toshidama seal, block carver's seal Ota Hori Masu, with publisher's seal within the green border at lower right, Ningyocho, Gusokuya (Gusokuya Kahei) followed by date and censor seal, Mi-shi, Aratame (year of the snake , 4th or 6th month, examined)
oban tate-e 14 1/2 by 9 3/4 in., 36.8 by 24.8 cm
The actor Kawarazaki Sansho (Ichikawa Danjuro IX, 1838-1903), who also went by Sansho as identified in the cartouche, is in the role of Sato Masakiyo, one of many stage names for the historical Kato Kiyomasa (1561-1611). The most famous play to use this variation on his name was Hachijin Shugo no Honjo (Eight Battle Formations in Defense of Honjo Castle), which was originally written for puppet theater but was adapted to kabuki in 1808. The play, which tells a story of changing allegiances and martial intrigue, results in Masakiyo drinking poisoned sake. The actor wears a distinctive hikitate eboshi (headdress worn by samurai of rank) and grips a folded fan between his teeth while crossing his eyes, evidentially he is in the midst of a mie, a stylized pose which the actor holds for several seconds to amplify a dramatic moment in a scene.
This print is from an untitled series by Kunichika of okubi-e ('big head pictures') portraits of leading kabuki actors of the time. The publisher Gusokuya Kahei issued over twenty designs during a six-month period in 1869. Each portrait was framed by a decorative border which referenced the actor's mon (crest)-- here the mimasu (3 rice measure) box-like crest of the Danjuro family is additionally highlighted with three colors indicating that this is an early deluxe impression.
Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art
Publisher: Gusokuya Kahei
About Toyohara Kunichika
Japanese, 1835-1900, Japan, based in Japan