Shikan, Takasuke as onnagata, 1880
Ink on Paper
14 1/16 in. x 28 1/8 in. (35.72 cm x 71.44 cm)
Fine colors. Fine impressions with gauffage and lacquer.
Two text banners in the upper left of the right panel. Text block in the upper right of the right panel. Text printed in the lower right of the right panel. Pairs of text banners in the upper right and upper left of the center panel. Signed in the lower right of the center panel. Pairs of text banners in the upper right and center of the right edge of the left panel.
Colored ink woodblock print; oban triptych.
This appears to be a variation of "The Bamboo Room" scene from Act II of the play "The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai / Meiboku Sendai hagi." In the standard kabuki play version, the shogun's son Tsuruchiyo is friends with Senmatsu, son of the wet-nurse Masaoka. In this print, names have been changed. The cartouches indicate that the boy on the right is named "Kamechiyo;" kame means "turtle" and is often linked with tsuru / "crane" as two symbols of longevity, so the kabuki audience would have recognized the name change from Tsuruchiyo to Kamechiyo. Similarly, the name cartouche for the boy at left reads Sendaimatsu:" in the standard version of the play the wet nurse's son is called Senmatsu, and the actual murder took place in the city of Sendai, so again the audience would have understood the connection. The names of adult characters on the print have also been altered, but the stage set and action clearly indicate this is a version of the famous play Meiboku Sendai hagi.
The setting is the women's quarters of the shogun's palace, which was decorated with paintings of bamboo and sparrows. It is here in the "Bamboo Room" that Masaoka raises the two boys, protecting them from harm. However, she has learned of a plot to poison the shogun's son and thus won't let him out of her sight, claiming he is too ill to leave her rooms. Lady Yashio, who is involved in the assassination scheme, shows up unexpectedly with a doctor to see if the boys are truly sick. While Lady Yashio inspects the shogun's son, a box of poisoned cakes is brought in as a gift from the governor (the scene depicted here). Masaoka's son will eat one of the cakes instead and begin choking; in order to cover up the failed poisoning attempt, Lady Yashio will grab Masaoka's boy and slit his throat, claiming he has insulted the governor by stealing the cakes. Throughout this, Masaoka remains mute, stoically protecting her charge despite the brutal killing of her own son. Her courage and sense of duty was a model of moral behavior, and the role of Masaoka was popular with audiences.
Sendaimatsu, on the left, is played by the famous child actor Sawamura Genpei (1869-1881) who tragically died the following year. Kamechiyo is performed by Ichikawa Benzo. Suketakaya Takasuke IV is the onnagata at center. Ichikawa Gonjuro (1848-1904), at left, plays Katakura Kojuro, and Nakamura Tokizo (1849-1919) is delivering the box of cakes.
Nagawa Kamesuke et al (translated by Matthew Johnson), "The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai / Meiboku Sendai hagi," in James R. Brandon and Samuel L. Leiter (ed.) Kabuki Plays on Stage, Volume 2: Villainy and Vengence, 1773-1799 (Honolulu: University of Hawai'I Press, 2003), pp. 48-71.
For more information, please refer to the Chikanobu exhibition catalogue.
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