“The Mirror of Magical Heroes” by Toyohara Kunichika, published in 1877… and wow.
Pictured in this panel, the left panel of a tryptich, are:
The character 児雷也 Jiraiya1 [literally: child-thunder man or young thunder], played by Ichikawa Danjūrō IX 市川 團十郎, has conjured a giant toad allowing him to perform “toad magic.” By mastering the toad’s magic and with the toad by his side, Jiraiya can overcome his enemies.
The character 綱手 Tsunade [literally: rope-hand; translated as towing line], played by Suketakaya Takasuke IV 助高屋 高助, has conjured a giant snail and has mastered “snail magic.”
Do I know what “toad magic” and “snail magic” are? Not a clue. Is this perhaps the most bizarre print I’ve come across? Yes, by a long shot.
The print has creases and small rips and tears commensurate with age. Color has faded uniformly in the majority of the print where the fading looks almost intentional as a border. But while faded, the print still has strong and radiant color as itself. There are some tiny wear-holes in the print, but only noticable when held up against a light table. Residue of tape in the top verso.
About the Artist
“Since I am tired of painting portraits of people of this world, I will paint portraits of the King of hell and the devils.”
Born in 1835, Toyohara Kunichika grew up in the Kyobashi district of Edo in the midst of merchants and artisans. In 1848, at age 13, he was accepted as an apprentice into the studio of Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III 1786–1865). Kunichika’s work stands in contrast to that of many of his contemporaries as he persistently held onto the traditional style and subject matter of the classic Japanese woodcut, unaffected by new Western forms of art. His love of Kabuki inspired him to depict actors in their various roles and varying facial expressions. His skillful use of color and ability to translate the actor’s depth of emotion onto the page makes his work some of the most dramatic ever produced. Later on in his career, Kunichika turned primarily to the triptych format as the increased size gave him the space to fully portray the drama and action of the characters represented.
Kunichika was known as one of “The Three Greats of Meiji Ukiyo-e”, along with Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892) and Kiyochika Kobayashi (1847-1915)