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Scholten Japanese Art Gallery
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Utagawa Kunisada, Mari no Kanemitsu

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865

Mari no Kanemitsu, the Ghost of Kamada Matahachi, the Ghost of Kikuno, and the Nun Kyodai
(Mari no Kanemitsu, Kamada Matahachi borei, Kikuno ga borei, Kyodai-ni)

signed Toyokuni ga within the artist's Toshidama cartouche, publisher's seal Sho (Hayashiya Shogoro), carver's seal Hori Take, censor's seal Aratame, date seal U-shichi (year of the hare [1855], 7th month)

oban tate-e triptych 14 by 29 1/8 in., 35.5 by 74 cm

In the right panel, the actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV (1812-1866) is in the role of Mari no Kanemitsu; in the center panel, the actor Kodanji IV appears again in the roles of both the ghosts of Kamada Matahachi and Kikuno; and in the left panel, the onnagata Iwai Kumesaburo III (Iwai Hanshiro VIII, 1829-1882) is in the role of the nun Kyodai from the play Na ni Takashi Mariuta Jitsuroku (True Record of the Famous Song for Hand-Balls), which premiered in the 7th lunar month of 1855 at the Nakamura Theater in Edo. This staging remarkably cast Kodanji IV in six different roles, three of them simultaneously in this presentation.

The drama begins when Kanemitsu sleeps with his brother's widow Kyodai, who since her husband's passing has become a nun. Their liaison must be kept a secret, as public knowledge of the affair would be devastating for their reputations. However, their indiscreations are revealed to two characters who remain loyal to the deceased's memory: his retainer, Kamada Matahachi, and his concubine, Kikuno. Matahachi and Kikuno confront Kanemitsu, who cunningly accuses them of committing adultery themselves and then has the pair killed, tying them together in a basket and drowning them in a river. This composition depicts their spirits rising from the river, which is artfully rendered within a folding screen on the stage, to haunt Kyodai and Kanemitsu. Later on in the play, a penitent Kyodai acknowledges the true nature of her and Kanemitsu's affair and clears Matahachi and Kikuno of any wrongdoing.

References:
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession nos. 11.29554-6 and 11.44177a-c
National Gallery of Victoria (www.ngv.vic.gov.au), from Pictures of the Floating World: The Supernatural, accession no. AS9-1994

$3,000