Signed: Torii Kiyomitsu ga; Publisherâ€™s seal: Bakui-chÅ nichÅme hanmoto Nishimura (Nishimuraya Yohachi) and EijudÅ; hosoban, 31.5 x 13.8 cm; benizuri-e
Segawa KikunojÅ II is playing Onna Narihira and BandÅ HikosaburÅ II is playing Oyamada TarÅ â€“ KikunojÅ as an equestrian shirabyÅshi dancer, with HikosaburÅ, in courtly garb, holding the horse by the reins. Kiyomitsuâ€™s elegant style stands between the powerful one of the older Torii school and the later perfection of colour printing (nishiki-e), to which he made a major contribution. This is a rare example of the three-colour print (benizuri-e) in red, yellow and blue.
Geyger, inv.no.16373 (KG p.116 / KGE p.126)
Torii Kiyomitsu (1735-1785): Kiyomitsu is an artist of transition. But this does not reduce his importance. He was a determining influence in the period of two- and three-colour printing. His father, Torii, Kiyomasu II, was one of the chief masters of the second Torii generation, while his pupil Harunobu was to become his teacher’s competitor in his later years. Since Kiyonobu II’s son died young, Kiyomitsu became the third head of the Torii family.
His influential, elegant style represents an intermediate position between the powerful works of the first and second Torii schools and the refinement of full-colour printing (nishiki-e). Kiyomitsu played a decisive role in the development of nishiki-e, through his experiments and his handling of different colour plates.
The woodblock prints shows Segawa, Kikunojô II as onna-Narihira (“female-Narihira”) and Bandô, Hikosaburô II as Oyamada-tarô. Both can be identified since their names, their roles and their mon (crests) are given. Kikunojô rides on a little black steed dressed in shirabyôshi costume with an eboshi (hat). He swings his sleeve over his head in a graceful dancing movement. His robe is decorated with large pumpkin blossoms, kiri leaves and blossoms, and trelliswork. Hikosaburô dressed in courtly attire holds the horse by the reins. He carries one sword over his shoulder and another fastened in his belt. His robe is adorned with hand drums, his haori with blossoming twigs. The ground is suggested by a few lines; otherwise the background is empty.
Both actors performed in 1767 in a play presented at the Nakamura-za theatre with the title Taiheiki Shizume Furisode (The Long-sleeved Kimono of a Woman of Low Rank in the Taiheiki). Kitao, Shigemasa (1739-1820), who in the following decades came to the fore as a master of coloured woodblock prints, also created two prints on the these same characters.
Neither Oyamada-tarô nor his sister Itsuki is known. However it is possible from Itsuki’s clothes to identify her as a shirabyôshi dancer. These female dancers, who were commoners, already performed in the 12th c. at courtly events. They wore usual male attire, a court hat and a sword. They accompanied their dances and songs on a hand drum. A few of them enjoyed the favour of high nobility, such as Shizuka-gozen, the mistress of Yoshitsune (12th c.), or three shirabyôshi dancers known to have been mistresses of Taira-no-Kiyomori.
Of particular interest is the use of the term onna-Narihira for the figure Itsuki. Ariwara-no-Narihira (825-880) was the grandchild of Emperor Kammu (reigned 782-815), the founder of Kyôto. He was given the family name Ariwara by the Emperor and was therefore struck off the list of imperial family, as was customary in order to prevent this from growing too large. Little is known about Narihira’s life. We know only that when he was fifty-two he was named Lieutenant-General of the Imperial Guard of the Right. Many poems are to be found in the various anthologies from the Middle Ages of Japan. The Ise-monogatari (“Tales of Ise”) is attributed to him; it describes in seventy-five chapters (dan) the events and love affairs of this epitome of the classical, sensitive, courtly lover. Its sprinkling of poems and metaphors is familiar to every educated Japanese. Thus the Ise-monogatari was one of the first illustrated books to be printed for popular consumption (1608).
In fine arts and literature, reference is often made to the Ise-monogatari.
Narihira was regarded at the beginning of the 17th c. as the handsome man par excellence (mame-otoko). He was considered to embody the feminine and the masculine ideal of beauty in one person. The great haiku poet Matsuo, Bashô (1644-1694) described this sexual ambivalence in the person of Narihira as the combination of the plum blossom, symbol of severe masculine beauty, and the pliant willow twig, a symbol of feminine beauty. Already in the early decades of the 17th c. actress-prostitutes appeared dressed as men. Boys and youths organized into dance troops worked also as prostitutes. They performed, for example, dances known as Narihira-odori in those years. This ambiguity is also to be found in later Kabuki (following the bans on women and youth in Kabuki in 1629 and 1652 respectively). The person of Itsuki, who is here impersonated by a man as is customary in Kabuki, is lent such an ambivalent meaning by the use of the term “onna-Narihira” (female-Narihira). The scene shown on our leaf is recorded as Narihira Azuma-kudari mitate (“Travesty of the Journey to the East of the Cavalier Narihira”). This theme is based on dan IX, in which Narihira composes his famous poem about the snow-covered Mount Fuji.
Segawa, Kikunojô II, the adopted son of Segawa, Kikunojô I is supposed to have been a descendant of a prince from Musashi. He was already performing as a child actor in 1750, and from 1756 he was a female impersonator. He died in 1773 at the age of thirty-three. He was practically predestined to play such ambivalent roles.
Bandô, Hikosaburô II, son of Hikosaburô I born 1741, switched from youth roles to male roles in 1765. He was the special favourite of all theatre goers. But he died at the age of twenty-eight in 1768, a year after this print was published.