The Actors Ichikawa Raizō in the Role of Umeōmaru and Nakajima Mihoemon in the Role of Shihei


The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. The designer of this print is not known with certainty, but it is attributed to Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1819), a self-taught ukiyo-e artist and book illustrator who experimented with the emerging techniques of color printing. This print is a hosoban (narrow format) benizuri-e (two-color prints), an early form of color printing that often limited its palette to pink and green. Hosoban was the standard size for actor prints in the 18th century. The Kabuki actors in this print are frozen in a dramatic moment of the scene kuruma-biki (carriage-breaking), in which a heroic youth, Umeomaru, vigorously confronts Shihei, an enemy who had caused his father to be exiled from political success.

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1 print : woodcut, color ; 29.4 x 12.4 centimeters


  • Forms part of: R. Leicester Harmsworth collection.

Last updated: September 18, 2015