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Scholten Japanese Art Gallery
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Shunsho
Katsukawa Shunsho, 1726-1792
Eleven Sheets Illustrating the Treasury of the Forty-Seven Loyal Retainers: Act VII

depicting a young woman descending a ladder propped up against the roof of a verandah while a man assisting her reaches beneath the hem of her kosode; an unsigned impression from the series published ca. late 1770's
chuban tate-e 10 1/4 by 7 5/8 in., 26.1 by 19.4 cm
This abuna-e (lit. 'dangerous picture'- mildly suggestive with the flash of leg exposed by her awkward position) illustrates the moment in Act VII just after Okaru is discovered using a mirror to spy on Yuranosuke who was reading a letter while seated on a verandah just below her window. He summons her down, using a ladder to assist in the descent. Okaru confesses that she had read some of the letter and is surprised when Yuranosuke does not react with anger, but instead offers to pay her debt to the brothel which she had just entered if she would be with him as his wife for only three days. Okaru is overjoyed with his proposal, although she does not yet know that her husband (with whom she he assumes she can be reunited after the three days have passed) is already dead, and that her own brother suspects Yuranosuke to be a traitor.
For this series Shunsho selected famous scenes from the Chushingura play, which is set in the 14th century (although based on real events which took place in the early 18th century), but he depicts the characters in contemporary Edo period dress rather than the costumes worn by the actors. The scene just prior to this moment, in which Okaru manages to read the letter from above while a traitor, Kudayu, hidden beneath the porch, simultaneously reads the unscrolling letter hanging over the edge, is frequently depicted in woodblock prints, usually in the long vertical format of hashira-e (pillar prints).
Shunsho's choice of this moment is more suited to the chuban format, and captures the sexual tension and Okaru's precarious position, both literally and figuratively. She balances between the brothel window and her would-be-savior, Yuranosuke, whose questionable loyalties have not been made clear to the audience.
References:
Clark & Ueda, The Actor's Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School, pp. 252-253; 425-426 (6 other designs from the series)
Halford, The Kabuki Handbook, pp. 138-165

Currently on loan to a museum.
price: $ 4,800 (reserved)