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Utagawa Toyokuni I, 1769-1825
Actor Nakamura Utaemon III Votive Plaque
signed at lower right, Toyokuni ga, ca. 1810s
oban yoko-e 8 1/4 by 11 in., 20.9 by 27.8 cm
This rare surimono (privately published print) illustrates a view of ema, votive plaques, as they would be displayed at a temple. The upper right plaque depicts an actor in the iconic Shibaraku role, the characters in the upper left and upper right corners read hono (dedication or offering) and is signed at left, ganshu (temple petitioner) Bunri. The long text panel below contains ten poems which are signed by various writers from Edo, Kyoto and Osaka. The poem immediately below the actor which is set apart from the others is signed Shikan, which was both the stage name (for a brief period) and the literary name of Nakamura Shikan I (Utaemon III, 1778-1838), who is likely the actor portrayed above. Utaemon was a major kaneru yakusha (a talented actor able to perform any role, male or female) from Kamigata (the region of Osaka and Kyoto) who also enjoyed great success in Edo. For his entire career he frequently moved between Edo, Osaka and Kyoto for extended stints at major theaters, naturally creating a widespread fan base. The text panel at the top left begins with San kudari, meaning that the 3rd 'came back' (from somewhere), which suggests that this print is commemorating Utaemon returning to Edo after a period performing elsewhere.