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Artist: Utagawa Kunihisa (歌川国久)

Print: Onoe Matsusuke I (尾上松助) as the ghost of the wet-nurse Iohata (‘Iohata bokon’) in the play Tenjiku Tokubei ikoku banashi (天竺徳兵衛韓噺)

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Dates: 1804,created
Dimensions: 8.75 in,14.25 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Toyokuni monjin Kunihisa ga
(Toyokuni's student Kunihisa drew this picture)
豊国門人国久画
Publisher: Tsuruya Kinsuke (Marks 554 - seal 06-002)

Related links: Waseda University; British Museum; Rijksmuseum;

Physical description:

This rare, majestic ghost print is by Toyokuni I's early and talented female pupil Kunihisa, who produced only a handful of superb designs in the early manner of Toyokuni I. Unidentified Japanese collector's seal at base.

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"A female print designer of whom a few prints of actors and beautiful women are known. Binyon and Sexton, 1923, p. 155, lists two prints, one of which, a portrait of an actor in a female role, now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, is reproduced in the Cat. Hayashi sale, 1905.

Utagawa Kunihisa was one of Toyokuni's earliest pupils. Apart from prints some paintings by her are also known." Quoted from: Catalogue of the Collection of Japanese Prints Part IV - Hiroshige and the Utagawa School, Rijksprentkabinet/Rijksmuseum, 1984, no. 188, p. 108. This is accompanied by a small black and white illustration.

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This play was composed (partially?) by Katsu Hyōzō I (Tsuruya Nanboku IV - 四代目鶴屋南北).

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Often in kabuki theater ghosts are represented by figures in white robes, but not always. The white robe is similar to a katabira, a summer robe, but it is referred to as a kyōkatabira (経帷子). After a person died their body was washed, often by female family members, and prepared in a certain way. At the end, whether Shintō or Buddhist, they were dressed in a white garment to start them on their next (spiritual/afterlife) journey. "Three women of the community followed strict rules in making the death robe. They measured the cloth by hand instead of with a ruler, tore the cloth instead of cutting it with scissors, sewed the seams so that the stitches were visible, left the ends of the threads unknotted, and made no collar. Making the garment different from the clothes worn by the living emphasized the contrast between life and death..." That is why we see the figure of Iohata in a loose white robe in this print.