Portrait of the Actor Ichikawa Ōmezō I (1781–1833) With ICHIKAWA DANJŪRŌ VII, calligrapher

Hanging scroll: ink and color on silk, 35½ x 12⅝ in. (90.3 x 32.0 cm); circa 1833
Signed: Kōchōrō Kunisada ga
Artist’s seal: Hanabusa Ittai

 The actor, with an alert expression on his face, is seated in a formal pose in his persimmon brown kamishimo over a black robe and blue-gray underrobes. He rests his hands on his knees, and in one, clasps a folding fan. A single sword is thrust through his sash. Four mimasu crests of the Ichikawa family of actors appear on his shoulders and sleeves. Ichikawa Sōdai, referred to in the inscription, was the name Ōmezo took following his retirement from the stage in 1824, and he is given this moniker in Kunisada’s Yakusha natsu no Fuji of 1828.

Kunisada is famous for his portraits of Kabuki performers in roles. Less well-known are his portraits of actors dressed in formal wear, which were probably made for funerary or memorial ceremonies. Presumably, Kunisada knew that he would receive the commission beforehand, giving him time to prepare the basic portrait before his subject died, much in the manner that modern newspapers prepare the obituaries of famous people well before their demise. This would allow an image of the deceased to be displayed at the funeral ceremony, perhaps in a temporary mount, before being sent to be properly preserved in a display mount after the ceremony was over.

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