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Kômei bijin mitate Chûshingura junimai tsuzuki


Utamaro, Kitagawa; designer; Japanese printmaker, c.1756-1806






circa 1795


Japanese; Ukiyo-e


18th century


Colour print from a folding album with silk covers containing the set of 12 woodblock ôban prints, each sheet c.387 x 257. Signed (each sheet): Utamaro hitsu. Publisher: Ômiya Gonkurô. c.1795




given; 1945; The Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum


Part of the unique album containing the only known complete surviving set of the series Kômei bijin mitate Chûshingura junimai tsuzuki (The Chûshingura drama parodied by famous beauties: a set of twelve prints), which formerly belonged to Edmond de Goncourt (1822-96), who published the first book about Utamaro in 1891. His manuscript note is pasted on the inside cover stating that he bought it for 175 francs as a work of the greatest rarity from the Paris dealer Hayashi Tadamasa in 1885. Kanadehon Chûshingura (Model for kana calligraphy: treasury of the forty-seven loyal retainers) is the most famous of the kabuki revenge plays and is frequently illustrated in prints. Utamaro made several mitate (parody) sets of the story. In this series, scenes from the play are represented as scenes in the life of celebrated contemporary beauties — courtesans, geisha and tea-house waitresses — thus creating humorous comparisons between their petty squabbles and the ferocious action of the original. All the prints, except the first and last (a diptych), are inscribed with the names of the women or the houses where they worked. The set was later reissued with the names removed probably in response to the decree of 1796 reinforcing an earlier ban on the appearance of women’s names other than courtesans. The play was first written in eleven acts for the puppet theatre in 1748 by Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Shôraku and Namiki Sôsuke, but was quickly adapted for the kabuki stage. The action was based on historical events that took place in 1702-3, although in accordance with theatrical convention the play moved the events back to the fourteenth century. Lord Enya is goaded by the villain Moronao into the offence of drawing his sword within the castle precincts. Enya is ordered to commit seppuku (honourable suicide) and his loyal retainers are dismissed to become rônin (masterless warriors). They resolve to avenge their master’s death under the leadership of Yuranosuke. They eventually attack Moronao’s castle, and after he refuses the chance to commit ritual suicide, Yuranosuke kills him, and they place his head on Enya’s grave. This prints illustrates Act 1. The geisha Tomimoto Toyohina, who has just performed on the shamisen before a young lord, receives a cup of sake and the gift of a robe. This parodies the scene at the Hachiman Temple in which the lecherous villain Moronao tries to insinuate himself with Enya’s wife, Lady Kaoyo, and hands her a love letter. Toyohina represents Kaoyo. The maid holding the robe represents Moronao.


Discoveries - Art, Science & Exploration from the University of Cambridge Museums. 2014-01-31 - 2014-04-27
Organiser: University of Cambridge Museums
Venue: 2 Temple Place, London, London


Object Number: P.348-1945
(Paintings, Drawings and Prints)
(record id: 182636; input: 2011-03-29; modified: 2018-05-15)


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