The Actor Nakayama Tomisaburo


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 is one of only seven known works, all portraits of actors, by Kabukidō Enkyō (1749–1803), the sole follower of the enigmatic Tōshūsai Sharaku. Nothing was known of Enkyō until 1926, when it was discovered that he also used the name Nakamura Jūsuke II; under this name he was known as an author and Kabuki actor. It is likely that the subject here is Nakayama Tomisaburō, a male actor who played female roles, as identified by an identical print by Enkyō in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Last updated: September 18, 2015