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Archive: Sadamasu 貞升 (later called Kunimasu 國升)

(R) Arashi Rikan II as Kagekiyo and (L) Nakamura Utaemon III as yakko (servant) Komahei; mitate, Osaka, 1833
Utagawa Sadamasu ga
Artist: None; Block Cutter: hori Kuma; Printer: suri Oto
Ta (Fujita)
Circa 1833 (mitate)
(H x W)
Deluxe diptych ôban nishiki-e
37.6 x 52.0 cm
Very good (deluxe, with metallics)
Good color; good condition (loosely backed with very thin modern Japanese paper; slight rubbing and soil; expertly repaired thin areas in lower portions of both sheets; minor wrinkling)
Price (USD/¥):
Inquiry (Ref #KMS08)

The historical Kagekiyo (the Heike general Taira no Kagekiyo) was nicknamed Akushichibyoe, "bad man of the seventh degree," for killing his uncle (after he mistook him for his enemy Minamoto no Yoritomo). Although a formidable warrior, he was later captured after the pivotal naval battle at Dannoura in 1185 when the Genji clan, led by Yoritomo (1147–99), defeated the Heike forces. Exiled to a cave on Hyûga Island, Kagekiyo died of starvation in 1195.

Despite being featured only briefly in the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike; a twelfth-century chronicle compiled from oral tradition in the late fourteenth century), Kagekiyo nevertheless assumed a prominent role in legend and in kabuki and puppet dramas called Kagekiyo mono (Kagekiyo plays). One of the best known versions was promoted by Ichikawa Danjuro VII for the codification of the Ichikawa family's Kabuki jûhachiban (Eighteen favorite kabuki plays), an aragoto ("wild business") role with a dotera (padded-dressing-gown), a wig (katsura) with a bushy crown, and makeup called kumadori ("taking the shadows") with red lines (sujiguma or "border stripes") and painted blue beard (hanguma).


This is a mitate-e (analogue print); as such, there is no identifiable performance for Rikan II and Utaemon III in these two roles circa 1833. The two figures appear to be traveling surreptitiously, with Kagekiyo holding an amigasa (woven or braided hat made of rush or straw) which often, in kabuki, indicates that the character is on the move, with the hat serving to hide the face.

sealThe sheets are the only ones recorded for this composition, so if there was ever a third sheet (on the far left), it remains unknown.

The publisher's seal incorporates the character ta under a mountain peak to read "Fujita." Below that is the seal for the blockcutter Kumazô (hori Kuma) and printer Oto (suri Oto).

Demonstrating once again why the best Osaka prints are celebrated for their quality of design and execution, Sadamasu's composition was cut and printed with formidable skill, featuring eye-catching patterning in the robes and brilliant use of metallics, all set against an atmospheric night sky.

References: KAM, p. 229(365); KAN, no. 17; NKE, p. 253