Three Actors


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. This print features a central male actor holding a sake container or tea pot, and two onna-gata (male Kabuki actors in female roles) playing the shamisen (three-stringed lute). Although Okumura Masanobu (1686–1764) started his career as a book illustrator and writer of popular fiction, he later began experimenting with various subjects and printing techniques, including the urushi-e (lacquer pictures). Urushi-e was a popular style in the 1720s, in which a coating of glue was applied to certain black areas in a composition to give them a glossy texture. Masanobu included the gourd logo of his publishing company, Okumura-ya, on the bottom center of this picture.

Last updated: September 18, 2015