Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865
Actors Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Soga Goro Tokimune and Ichikawa Monnosuke as Kewaizaka no Shosho from the series Mitate Kyogen
signed Okonomi ni tsuki (out of my own taste) Kunisada ga, with publisher's seal Matsu (Matsumura Tatsuemon), censor's seal kiwame (approved), ca. 1823-24
oban tate-e 15 1/8 by 10 3/8 in., 38.4 by 26.3 cm
This double okubi-e ('big head' portrait) is apparently an unrecorded design from a very rare series of which only three other designs are known. The title of the series, Mitate Kyogen, which can be defined as Imagined Performances, indicates that Kunisada is imagining a pairing of actors that did not actually take place on stage, hence it is not possible to date the print with certainty. The actors are depicted in roles from a play portraying the classic tale of the Soga brothers, a story based on the historical account of two brothers who waited years to avenge their father who was murdered while on a hunting party in 1176. The story was first adapted to kabuki in the mid-17th century, and over the years more than a thousand different versions were written and performed. The Soga Brothers plays were so popular they became a mainstay of the New Year program at the theaters. Ichikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859) is imagined in the role of Soga Goro Tokimune, the younger and more hot-headed brother; and Ichikawa Monnosuke III (1794-1824) is in that of his lover, the lovely courtesan Kewaizaka no Shosho.
Danjuro VII was one of the most popular actors in the 19th century, with a long and successful career playing heroic male roles. As a direct descendent of the Danjuro line of actors (on his mother's side) he inherited the most prestigious of all stage names, Ichikawa Danjuro, which he took in 1807 at the age of only 17. One of his contributions was to establish the Kabuki Juhachiban, a collection of eighteen favorite plays in which there were roles that were considered the specialty of the Danjuro lineage, which includes the play Yanone, a version of the Soga Brother's Revenge. The actor portraying his lover, Monnosuke III, was a rising onnagata (actor specializing in female roles) who tragically died from food poisoning in the 7th month of 1824, possibly shortly after this print was produced.
Arendie & Henk Herwig, Heroes of the Kabuki Stage, 2004, pp. 83-91 (on the Soga Brothers Revenge)
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