Utagawa Kunisada, Banzui Chobei

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865

Modern Suikonden: Banzui Chobei, Comparable to Gongsun Sheng
(Tosei suikoden: Kosonsho ni hisu)

signed Konomi ni makase Toyokuni ga within the artist's Toshidama cartouche, publisher's seal Sho (Hayashiya Shogoro), carver's seal Yokokawa Hori Take, combined censor and date seal Hitsuji-shi, aratame (year of the goat [1859], 4th month, examined)

oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/2 in., 38 by 26.7 cm

This composition depicts the actor Ichikawa Ebizo V (1791-1859) in the role of Banzui Chobei, a retainer of Shirai Gonpachi, in the play Ukiyozuka Hiyoku no Inazuma (The Floating World's Pattern and Matching Lightening Bolts). Gongsun Sheng is one of the legendary heroes of the Suikoden (Tales of the Water Margin), one of the four classical novels of Chinese literature. Chobei is not a samurai but rather an otokodate, or chivalrous commoner, giving him Robin Hood-like cultural associations. Though Ukiyozuka Hiyoku no Inazuma is the first and perhaps most prominent representation of Chobei as a kabuki character, he would be brought back in many different plays and stories. Gongsun Sheng was a warrior of similarly modest backgrounds, which may be the reason for Kunisada suggesting a connection between the two.

This print is part of a group of seven known designs, all comparing figures from the Suikoden with modern kabuki characters. The group is unified by the decorative bamboo silhouette background.

James R. Brandon and Samuel L. Leiter, Kabuki Plays on Stage: Darkness and Desire, 1804-1864, 2002, pp. 100-117
Museum of Fine Art, Boston (www.mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.42433-5



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