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VJP title Utamaro print showing



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Konishi (Gosôtei) Hirosada (active c. 1847-1863)


Hirosada kanji Konishi (Gosôtei) Hirosada was the central figure of mid-nineteenth century Osaka printmaking. There is a clarity and self-assurance in Hirosada's drawing style, and his prints serve as a legacy to his skill in depicting actors on the Osaka kabuki stage. Hirosada's art explored both the main lines of dramatic kabuki narratives and the more subtle emotional dialogues among the stage characters — including imaginative, interactive arrangements of figures and their expressive physiognomies — that is unusual in nineteenth-century Osaka printmaking.

The design below portrays the actors Jitsukawa Ensaburô as Kajiwara Heiji and Mimasu Daigorô IV as Higuchi Jirô Kanemitsu disguised as the boatman Matsuemon in the play Hiragana seisuiki ("Simple Chronicle of the Fortunes of the Heike and Genji") performed at the Wakadayû theater, Osaka in 5/1848. The prints bear the marks of the block cutter (hori Sada) and the printer (suri Tami) in the margins, right and left respectively. The designs are each titled Chûkô buyûden ("Chronicles of Courage, Loyalty, and Filial Piety"), a non-theatrical "catch-all" title that Hirosada used on at least 120 designs for a wide array of polyptychs and single sheets in response to the lingering effects of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms) that halted the production of actor prints in Osaka in 1842.


The kabuki play dramatizes episodes from the war between the Heike and Genji clans in 1184. Matsuemon can be seen at the left carrying a huge oar, which is how he first makes his entrance in the play. He is in disguise in order to infiltrate the Kajiwara clan and exact revenge for their killing his lord. Matsuemon's enemy is the deceitful and ambitious Heiji. The diptych is a brilliantly printed example, with deluxe techniques used for the fabric patterns and the wide range and variable densities of color. Matsuemon's fierceness is evident in his expression and in the unusual exposure of his upper teeth biting down on his lower lip. Heiji's menacing presence is also effectively captured, with his expressive hand gesture and glaring mie ("display").

An example of Hirosada's unusual placement of figures in polyptychs can be seen below in a triptych circa mid 1849. The actors Nakamura Daikichi III, Ichikawa Sukejûrô I, and Arashi Rikaku II play the roles of Tokihime, Sasaki Takatsuna, and Miuranosuke (right to left) in Kamakura Sandaiki (Chronicle of three generations in Kamakura, a ten-act puppet play (ningyô jôruri) that premiered in 3/1781 at the Hizen-za, Edo. Kabuki staged it for the first time in 9/1794 at the Kado no Shibai, Osaka; it appeared much later in Edo (2/1818 at the Nakamura-za). The play is based on the battle between Hideyoshi Toyotomi and the Tokugawa forces during the siege of Osaka Castle in 1615. It chronicles those events while setting the action back in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to avoid the Tokugawa shogunate's censorship against staging recent historical events involving the ruling samurai class. So the names of the protagonists were changed; for example, Hôjô Tokimasa was used for Tokugawa Ieyasu, Sakamoto Miuranosuke for Kimura Shigenari, Sasaki Takatsuna for Sanada Yoshimura, and Sasaki Moritsuna for Sanada Nobuyuki. Sakamoto Castle in Kyoto was used instead of Osaka Castle.

The plot has Sasaki Takatsuna, a general in the Genji clan, fighting the Heike clan at the battle for Sakamoto Castle. He also has a split allegiance to a Heike princess, Toki-hime, and the Genji warrior Sakamoto Miuranosuke, who are lovers. Prevented by their rival clans from marrying, Toki-hime and Miuranosuke hatch a plot to kill Toki-hime's father (the Heike general Hôjô Tokimasa) so that she can be accepted into Miuranosuke's family. Takatsuna comes to their aid when he kills a spy set on revealing the plot. A tragic ending ensues, however, after Miuranosuke dies from wounds suffered in battle and Takatsuna mistakenly beheads Toki-hime; Takatsuna then takes his own life.

Hirosada left
Rikaku II
as Miuranosuke
Hirosada middle
as Sasaki Takatsuna
Hirosada right
Daikichi III
as Tokihime

In this composition Hirosada has explored the effects of variable depths of field within the same composition. The lovers are set farther back from the picture plane than is Takatsuna in the middle sheet, whose form so fills the space that his hand bursts through the confines of the frame. The mie are most effective, as the lovers' backward glances (and their similar positions in the depth of field) unite them symbolically despite the interposed, heroic figure of Takatsuna. This type of subtle but inventive interplay among the figures in multi-sheet bust-portraits became a signature of Hirosada's mature working manner around the beginning of 1849. This is a deluxe edition with metallic pigments. The publisher's seal (Kinkadô) appears in each of the left-hand margins. A second edition omitting luxurious pigments and printing effects was issued by the publisher Tenki. ©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo


  • Keyes, Roger: Hirosada: Osaka Printmaker. Long Beach: University Art Museum. California State University, 1984. Keyes,
  • Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.
  • Halford, Aubrey & Giovanna: The Kabuki Handbook. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 52-62 and pp. 180-186.
  • Ikeda Bunko Shozô: Kamigata Shibai-e Ten Zoroku ["Illustrated Record of an Exhibition of Kamigata Theater Prints"]. Tokyo, 1985, p. 101, #135.
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