First published in 1770, this is from the Taisho 6 (1917) edition or Ehon butai ogi (“Illustrated Book of the Stage in Fan Shapes”), by artists Katsukawa Shuncho and Ippitsusai Buncho.
Inside fan-shaped borders, the book consists of 57 half-length portraits of Kabuki actors by Buncho and 49 by Shunsho. Outside the fan, against a background that was originally blue appears the actor’s name and his poetry name, but not the role depicted. The portraits codify the more mimetic depictions of each actor’s actual features or nigao-e recently devised by the two artists.
A unique piece presented here, what you’ll notice is where the fold line is; this isn’t two prints joined by tape or glue. In viewing the complete book, the fan shapes are in reverse of what’s shown in this print (expanding inward in the book, outward in this plate). This is because the book was created by creating double-prints on one sheet (depicted here), then folding the plate and joining them on the open edges. So the fold line in this plate then becomes the outer edge of the book, with the left and right edges of the plate being joined into the spine.
The Woodblock Print
The woodblock print is in very good condition; there is toning/aging along the central crease (as it was the outer part of the book) and a few minor spots of foxing. Strong colors, paper in good condition, and very delicate lines. Residue of tape on the verso.