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Archive: Hokuei

Description:
(R) Arashi Rikan II as Hirai Gonpachi (平井ごん八); (L) Nakamura Tomijûrô II as Komurasaki (小むらさき) in Hiyokumon sato no nishiki-e (Brocade picture of lovers’ crests in the pleasure quarter: 双紋郭錦絵), Naka no shibai, Osaka
Signature:
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga (春梅齋北英画)
Seals:
No artist seal
Publisher:
Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei)
Date:
8/1835
Format:
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
36.1 x 24.0 cm
Impression:
Very good
Condition:
Good color and condition (some fading of orange-red, but other colors very good; slight soil; trimming of left margin, but other margins mostly intact)
Price (USD/¥):
SOLD

Inquiry (Ref #HKE67)

Comments:
Background

Hiyokumon sato no nishiki-e (A brocade picture of lovers' crests in the pleasure quarter: 双紋廓錦絵) was one of a series of popular Gonpachi Komurasaki mono (plays about Gonpachi and Komurasaki: 権八小紫物) based on actual tales involving unrelated historical figures. The samurai Shirai Gonpachi (白井権八) — in the play he was called Hirai Gonpachi: 平井権八) — was guilty of murder and robbery, and was executed in 1679. The second figure was the legendary otokodate (lit., standing man, i.e., chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) Banzuin Chôbei (幡随長兵衛), ca. 1622-1657, said to have been killed by Mizuno Jûrozaemon, a leader of hatamoto-yakko (bannermen footsoldiers: 旗本奴). Banzuin was also the subject of puppet and kabuki plays called Banzuin Chôbei mono (plays about Banzuin Chôbei: 番随長兵衛物).

In the theatrical story, Gonpachi was — by age 16 — famous for his good looks, bravery, and swordsmanship. He kills a fellow samurai and flees to Edo, where at an inn he is warned by a 15-year-old beauty named Komurasaki that the owner is a gang leader plotting to murder him for his sword. Gonpachi swiftly kills all ten of the gang. Some time thereafter, he visits the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter and finds Komurasaki at the Miuraya brothel, now a prostitute selling herself to earn money for her destitute parents. Without the funds to ransom her, Gonpachi turns to a life of debauchery, supporting himself by robbery and murder. When he is finally captured and executed, the devoted Komurasaki takes her life at his grave. To honor their memory, sympathetic citizens build a tumulus called hiyokuzuka ("lovers' tomb") and temple priests carved a picture of the Hiyoku no tori (比翼鳥), a mythical love-bird — both male and female, each with one eye and one wing — that when flying join as one sex, symbolizing connubial love and fidelity.

Design

Hokuei designed only 4 double ôkubi-e on single ôban sheets. For another impression, see Schwaab no. 169 (OSP reference below). There is at least one known impression with the seal of the block carver that reads Kuma tô ("cut by Kuma").

This fine double bust portrait is, of course, notable for its unusual wide floral border, which is rarely found entirely intact. The blue flowers are tachibana (mandarin orange blossoms: 橘) representing Rikan's mon (crest or emblem: 紋). Komurasaki's upward gaze expresses her self-sacrificing love for the quintessential "bad boy" Gonpachi.

References: IKB-I, 2-441; KNP-6, p. 301; KUR, p. 215(115); IBYKS-II, no. 358; WAS-IV, no. 545; OSP, no. 169; NKE, pp. 133-134