• Ichikawa Kodanji IV (市川.小団次) in the <i>Miraculous Paintings by Ukiyo Matabei</i> (<i>Ukiyo Matabei meiga kitoku</i> - 浮世又平名画奇特)
Ichikawa Kodanji IV (市川.小団次) in the <i>Miraculous Paintings by Ukiyo Matabei</i> (<i>Ukiyo Matabei meiga kitoku</i> - 浮世又平名画奇特)
Ichikawa Kodanji IV (市川.小団次) in the <i>Miraculous Paintings by Ukiyo Matabei</i> (<i>Ukiyo Matabei meiga kitoku</i> - 浮世又平名画奇特)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) (artist 01/01/1797 – 04/14/1861)

Ichikawa Kodanji IV (市川.小団次) in the Miraculous Paintings by Ukiyo Matabei (Ukiyo Matabei meiga kitoku - 浮世又平名画奇特)


19.75 in x 14.25 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese woodblock print
Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Koshimuraya Heisuke
(Marks 274 seal 25-086)
Blockcutter: Yokokawa Takejirō (Hori Take)
Censors and date seal: Fuku & Muramatsu - 6/1853
Hagi Uragami Museum of Art - right panel
Hagi Uragami Museum of Art - left panel
National Diet Library
Philadelphia Museum of Art - right panel
Muzeum Sztuki i Techniki Japońskiej Manggha, Krakow - left panel only
University of Vienna
Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery
National Museums of Scotland - right panel
National Museums of Scotland - left panel
Waseda University - left panel
Waseda University - right panel
Cleveland Museum of Art
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art
Ashmolean Museum - right panel only
Royal Museums of Art and History, Belgium (via Cultural Japan) - right-hand panel only
Museum of Oriental Art, Venice (via Ritsumeikan University) - right-hand panel
Museum of Oriental Art, Venice (via Ritsumeikan University) - left-hand panel
National Museum of Japanese History (via Ritsumeikan University) - right panel
National Museum of Japanese History (via Ritsumeikan University) - left panel
Pushkin State Museum - right panel only
Lyon Collection - another copy of this diptych
Edo-Tokyo Museum
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Lyon Collection - a Sadamasu print related to this diptych
The British Museum
Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena
Tōken (東建) Corporation
Náprstek Museum
Seattle Asian Art Museum
Marega Collection, Universita Pontifica Salesiana - the right-hand panel (via Ritsumeikan University)
Marega Collection, Universita Pontifica Salesiana - the left-hand panel (via Ritsumeikan University) The kabuki actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Iwasa Matabei (founder of Ukiyo-e), surrounded by his paintings whiich have come to life (actors costumed as typical Ōtsu pictures of legendary characters.

Key to actors as Ōtsu-e - click on the jpeg above left to see the chart::
  1. Ichikawa Kodanji IV (四代目市川小団次) as Ukiyo Matabei (浮世又平), the founder of Ōtsu-e
  2. Asao Okuyama IV (浅尾奥山) as Kaminari (雷), the god of thunder
  3. Arashi Kangorō (嵐寛五郎) as Daikoku (大黒), the god of wealth
  4. Nakamura Kantarō (中村翫太郎) as takajō (鷹匠), a falconer
  5. Sakata Sajūrō II (坂田佐十郎) as Fukurokuju (福禄寿), the God of long life and wisdom
  6. Nakamura Aizō (中村愛蔵) as Fujimusume (藤娘), the wisteria maiden
  7. Ichikawa Hirogorō (市川広五郎) as Zatō (座等), a blind itinerant musician
  8. Nakayama Bungorō II (中山文五郎) as saru de namazu (猿と鯰), a monkey and catfish
  9. Arashi Otohachi III (嵐音八) as oni no nenbutsu (鬼の 念仏), a demon praying for salvation
  10. Nakayama Ichizō (中山市蔵) as Benkei (弁慶), the very strong 12th Century warrior monk
  11. Nakamura Tsuruzō I (中村鶴蔵) as yakko (奴), a servant


The socio-political context of this diptych

In Kuniyoshi From the Arthur R. Miller Collection it says on page 29: "[This diptych] was one of Kuniyoshi's most notorious works, on a par with the Earth Spider triptych of 1843. Like the artist's slightly earlier 'self-portrait' triptych [of 1848]... it ostensibly featured the legendary painter Ukiyo ('Floating World') Matabei, who was thought to have invented the kind of popular souvenir painting known as 'Ostu pictures' (Otsu-e). Matabei's paintings were so vivid, it was said, that the characters portrayed came to life. In the diptych, as in the print of 1848, Kuniyoshi grafted 'likeness pictures' (nigao-e) of Kabuki actors onto all the figures, including Matabei, seated on the right, who appears in the guise of Ichikawa Kodanji IV. As noted above, by the eleventh month of 1846 the authorities were tacitly agreeing to the renewed publication of actor prints, so censorship on these grounds was no longer an issue either in the triptych of 1848 or the diptych of 1853.

City Prosecutions records that the block-ready drawing for the Matabei diptych was approved by the censors on the sixth day of the sixth month, 1853, and that it went on sale in the middle of that month. Fujiokaya nikki states that it was available for purchase from the eighteenth day of the seventh month, and that from the first of the eighth month sales exploded. Sixteen hundred impressions were being printed every day to meet the demand. Examination of surviving impressions confirms that the print must have been produced in very large quantities. The Miller Collection contains impressions from two quite different sets of blocks. The first... thought in good condition, with bright, unfaded colours, exhibits white gaps between the brown of Matabei's robe and its outline - an imprecise fit testifying to block wear. [This is very close to the diptych in the Lyon Collection.] The Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, owns an extremely late impression, taken after many more thousands had been printed and the blocks had become considerably more worn. Many of the outlines have disappeared completely and the colour blocks are fitting very badly.... Recut editions could be produced by sacrificing impressions of the prints, using these, rather than new block-ready drawings, to carve a fresh, almost line-perfect set of blocks - a technique known as 'overlaid carving' (kabuse-bon. Printing from several sets at the same time obviously expanded the quantity of impressions at a rapid rate.

The Matabei diptych owed much of its extraordinary success to the timing of its publication. On the third day of the sixth month, 1853, a squadron of four US battleships under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry had steamed into Urga bay and rumours of a 'foreign invasion' reached the city the following day. In a detailed discussion of the print in relation to these momentous events the historian Minami Kazuo doubted that Kuniyoshi would have had time to design a print in response to the Americans' arrival and present it to the censors by the sixth day of the month, but the matter is surely open to question. Another key factor in the work's popularity was the unexpected death, on the twenty-second day of the sixth month, of the twelfth shogun, Tokugawa Ieyoshi (1793-1853), who period of rule, starting in 1837, had been dominated by the hated Tenpō reforms. His passing destabilised an already tense situation, and, as they had ten years earlier with the Earth Spider triptych, people began reading into Kuniyoshi's image what they wanted to see. Perhaps Ukiyo Matabei represented Tokugawa Nariaki (1800-1860), lord of Mito? Maybe the Young Falconer with 'kani' written on his sleeve stood for the soon-to-be-appointed thirteenth shogun, Iesada (1824-1858), a sickly individual nicknamed 'Kani Kubō' (Nervous Kid Shogun)? Could Wisteria Maiden (Fuji-musume) be Lady Fujinoe, a powerful figure in the shogun's harem. And the Monkey and Catfish symbolise the Americans? Fujiokaya nikki offers detailed explanations of the hidden meaning of each figure, but another contemporary source provides quite different interpretations.

As with the Earth Spider triptych, the authorities were alarmed not only by the question of who was 'really' represented, but also by the generally unsettling effect of the 'false rumours' (fuhyō) the image generated in the eighth month of 1853 they overrode the censor's approval and ordered the publisher to cease selling the prints and to destroy both the blocks and any remaining stocks. The operating censors were all dismissed and replaced. A later document records that Kuniyoshi and his publisher were fined, but City Prosecutions mentions no such punishment."


Sarah E. Thompson wrote in Undercurrents in the Floating World: Censorship and Japanese Prints on page 83: "Despite the general relaxation of regulations in the 1850s, clearly recognizable political satire was still not tolerated, as Kuniyoshi discovered. Although his earlier Raikō triptych may not have been consciously intended as satire at all, there do seem to be definite political implications in a work of 1853, a diptych entitled Ukiyo Matabei Meiga Kitoku (The Miracle of Famous Painting by Ukiyo Matabei...). The legendary painter Ukiyo Matabei, loosely based on the real-life artist Iwasa Matabei (1578-1650), is shown making folk paintings fo the type called ōtsu-e, a forerunner of ukiyo-e. The paintings have come to life, leaving only shadowy outlines on the paper and dance around the painter in a cloud... The wakashū (the handsome young man with the falcon on his wrist) in the foreground was thought to represent the new young shogun Iesada (1824-58; r. 1853-58), the sickly son of Ieyoshi. The word kan concealed in the pattern of the falconer's left sleeve was interpreted as a reference to the irritable temperament (kanshaku) of the shogun. The other figures were identified with the various advisers surrounding Iesada, and the whole was seen as a vaguely derogatory reference to the new governing powers. Kuniyoshi and his publisher were fined."


Another approach to this compositon

The curatorial files describing this diptych in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art note the tangential, but important, nature of this image to a particular kabuki play also represented in the Lyon Collection:

"One of the many subplots in the puppet play Keisei hangonko (The Beauty Whose Spirit Appears in the Incense Smoke), first performed in 1708, involves a certain Matahei who is credited with having created the Otsu-e style of folk painting (examples on view in this gallery). When Matahei is about to be arrested on false charges, the subjects of his paintings magically come to life and defend him. Here, an astonished Matahei peers up as his creations. Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who created this design, included all ten Otsu-e themes--the standard repertoire of Otsu-e artists after the turn of the nineteenth century."


Illustrated in:

1) Heroes & Ghosts on pg. 243.

2) 歌川国芳展: 生誕200年記念 Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Exhibition to Commemorate the 200th Anniversary of his birth, 1996, #273, p. 188.

2) in black and white in Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Springfield Museum of Art, 1980, #191.

3) in a small black and white reproduction in "L'ukiyo-e come arte «di uso e consumo»" by Manuela Capriati, Il Giappone, Vol. 41 (2001), fig. 12, p. 59.

4) in black and white in A Special Exhibition of Japanese Woodblock Prints: Ukiyo-e from Tadashi Goino's Collections (日本浮世繪兿術特展: 五井野正先生収藏展), National Museum of History [Taipei], 1999, 14.

5) in a small black and white reproduction in Ukiyo-e of Utagawa School and Edo Publishing World (歌川派 浮世絵 と 江戶 出版会 : 役者絵 を 中心 に) by Fujisawa Akane, 2001, p. 292, #67.

6) in color in Catalogue of Japanese Art in the Náprstek Museum published by The International Research Center for Japanese Studies: Nichibunken Japanese Studies Series 4, 1994, p. 16.

7) in a full two page color spread on pages 66-67 of Undercurrents in the Floating World: Censorship and Japanese Prints by Sarah E. Thompson and H.D. Harootunian, Asia Society Galleries, 1991.

8) in color in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 3, p. 64, #249.

9) in color in Kuniyoshi 国芳 by Jūzō Suzuki (鈴木重三), Heibonsha Limited, Publishers, 1992, no. 443.


There are other copies of this diptych in the Hachinohe Clinic Machikado Museum, the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art and the Ishibi Prefectural Museum.
Koshimuraya Heisuke (越村屋平助) (publisher)
Historical - Social - Ephemera (genre)
Ichikawa Kodanji IV (四代目市川小団次: spring 1844 to 5/1866) (actor)
Yokokawa Takejirō (横川彫武) (carver)
Musashibō Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶) (role)
Ōtsu-e (大津絵) (genre)
Asao Okuyama IV (四代目浅尾奥山: from 1846 to mid to late 1870s) (actor)