Original Edo era Japanese Woodblock Print
Memorial Portraits of Bando II, Nakamura Utaemon IV, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII, 1855
Shini-e - Literally meaning "death prints," shini-e are a category of Japanese woodblock commemorating the death of a famous kabuki actor, or less commonly, an artist or musician. These memorial portraits often depict the actor dressed in light blue death robes, or portraying a famous role associated with the individual. Some include verses or death poems along with the actor's age and date of death, or a posthumous Buddhist name. Other conventional iconography includes lotus blossoms or petals, incense burners, and prayer beads. The tragic suicide of Ichikawa Danjuro VIII in 1854 at the age of thirty-two resulted in nearly 200 shini-e of the actor. Some shini-e are recycled from earlier kabuki prints with the background blocks recut so they could be rushed into production. Most shini-e are unsigned, although some include the artist's signature. These designs are an interesting area of collecting.
Comments - Fascinating memorial portrait of three different kabuki actors in various roles. The left panel features a member of the Bando line of actors, who died at age 43, as a seated beauty smiling as she looks up. A horned red demon grimaces below, shouldering an impressive weapon. The center panel shows Ichikawa Danjuro VIII, who died at age 32 in 1854. He appears as a monk carrying a shakujou, a staff topped with ringed finials carried by monks and pilgrims. With his other hand, he twists the arm of Emma, the Lord of the Buddhist Underworld. The right panel depicts Nakamura Utaemon IV, who died at age 55, fighting off a green demon with one hand while also restraining an old hag gripping a knife. The small insets in each panel include each actor's death poem and dates of death. An intriguing image, wonderfully detailed.
Artist - Edo era artist (unsigned)
Image Size - 14 1/8" x 29 3/8"
Condition - This print with excellent detail as shown. Three separate panels. A few wormholes and thinning spots, slight separation along vertical fold at side of panel, repaired. Slight toning; soiling, rubbing, and whitish areas in left panel. Please see photos for details.