Utagawa Kunisada, 'The Kabuki Actors Ichikawa Kodanji IV and Bandô Kamezô'

Utagawa Kunisada, 'The Kabuki Actors Ichikawa Kodanji IV and Bandô Kamezô'

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
'The Kabuki Actors Ichikawa Kodanji IV and Bandô Kamezô'
1856
Nishiki-e (brocade print)
Diptych, two
ôban-size sheets
Signature: Tokokuni ga
Publisher: Daikokuya
Censorship seals: aratame and Tatsu shichi (July 1856)
Museum no. E.5733,5734-1886

This work is based on the final scene in Act 4 of 'Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura' (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), performed at the Ichimura-za Theatre in July 1856.

This print depicts a fight between the actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Fox-Genkuro and Kakuhan, a priest, among drifting will-o'-the-wisp. Kunisada frequently produced Kabuki prints. His detailed rendering of both actors and their costumes is particularly effective at capturing the liveliness and bustle of the performance.

During the ukiyo-e printing process the paper was laid on the inked woodblock and rubbed on the back by a special tool known as a baren. The baren was a flat disk about 13 centimetres in diameter consisting of an inner core of tightly twisted and coiled bamboo-fibre cord encased between a back plate made of approximately forty layers of pasted paper and a bamboo sheath.

The smoothness of the bamboo sheath allowed it to move easily across the paper while the hard knottiness of the inner core ensured that the pigment was forced deep into the fabric of the paper. This print shows a technique known as barensujizuri, which makes deliberate use of the marks caused by the baren to add drama to a composition. These marks can be seen in the blue ground of the print.

This print can be found in Prints and Drawings Study Room box TOPIC JP2.