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Shunei (春栄)

Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Hirai Gonpachi (平井ごん八) in Beni murasaki aide some-age (Scarlet and purple Osaka-dyed: 紅紫大坂潤), Kado no Shibai, Osaka
Shunei sha (春栄寫)
No artist seal
Shiochô (塩長)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
36.8 x 25.3 cm
Very good color and good condition (slight fading, but colors still strong; slight discolorations at edges, two expertly filled-in thinned spots at left of actor above signature; very slight trimming; slight moisture spots on purple kimono
Price (USD/¥):
$725 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

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Beni murasaki aide someage (Scarlet and purple Osaka-dyed: 紅紫大坂潤) featured the role of Tôken ["China Dog"] Jûbei, an otokodate (lit., "standing man" or chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) who was an ally of one of the most notorious otokodate, Banzuin Chôbei (who was as well a confederate of the outlaw Shirai Gonpachi). Thus Beni murasaki was another of the kabuki adaptations called Gonpachi Komurasaki mono (plays about Gonpachi and Komurasaki: 権八小紫物) based on actual tales involving unrelated historical figures.

The historical samurai Shirai (Hirai) Gonpachi (白井権八) was guilty of murder and robbery, leading to his execution in 1679. Banzuin Chôbei (幡随長兵衛), ca. 1622-1657, was a legendary otokodate said to have been killed by Mizuno Jûrozaemon, a leader of hatamoto-yakko (bannermen foot soldiers: 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).

The theatrical version of Gonpachi presents him — by age 16 — as a dashing otokodate famous for his good looks, bravery, and swordsmanship. In one episode 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. Afterwards 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 carve 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.


There were two artists signing as Shunei (春栄) who were active around 1816. One used the (pseudonym) Shungyôsai (春曉齋). Neither has anything to do with the well-known Edo artist Katsukawa Shunei (1762-1819).

This is the left sheet of a diptych, with the right sheet by the artist Shunkin depicting Nakayama Yoshio as Komurasaki. Gonpachi holds a portrait of the high-ranking courtesan who, on the right sheet, can be seen in full regalia as she parades in the Yoshiwara with two of her attendants (kamuro, 禿). The picture is inscribed with characters hô-kake (lit., devotion hanging, 奉掛).

This is a fascinating image that captures the emotional intensity and obsessive infatuation that Gonpachi holds for the alluring beauty Komurasaki. The condition is quite good for a print of this early period in Osaka printmaking.

References: IKB-I, no. 410; SDK, no. 465, p. 217; KHO, no. 184, p. 203