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Konishi Hirosada (小西廣貞)


Konishi (Gosôtei 五粽亭) Hirosada (小西廣貞), act. c. 1847-1863; died c. 1865) was the leading print designer, painter, and book illustrator of the mid-nineteenth century in Osaka. His given name was Kyômaruya Seijirô. He studied for a time with Utagawa Kunimasu (歌川國升 act. c. 1830-54 earlier called Sadamasu 貞升). Hirosada's use of the "Utagawa" surname confirms a connection with Edo-based Utagawa Kunisada I (歌川國貞). In the fourth or fifth month of 1852, Hirosada visited Edo, together with Sadamasu and Utagawa Sadayoshi (歌川貞芳 act. c. 1832-1853), where the three Osaka artists designed backgrounds and insets for prints in two series by Kunisada. Most likely their contributions to the series were made within a short time span and published afterwards, as the prints in question continued to appear after Hirosada had resumed his production in Osaka in 8/1852. Consistent with these dates, no prints designed by Hirosada appear to have been published in Osaka during the fourth through seventh months of 1852.

Konishi Hirosada: Kataoka Gadô II (片岡我童) as Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo (鎮西八郎為朝)
Shimameguri tsuki no yumiharizuki (Bow-shaped moon around the islands: 嶋巡月弓張), Ônishi Theater, Osaka
Series: Kômei buyûden ("Legendary tales of bravery" or “Tales of brave warriors of renown”: 高名武勇傳)
Woodblock print, 2/1847 (370 x 249 mm)

Hirosada's earlier art name was Hirokuni (廣國), but in 5/1847, he indicated on a published print that he had changed his name to Hirosada (廣貞). Hirosada's aforementioned tutelage with Utagawa Kunimasu is also acknowledged in the background of a print by Kunisada published by Moriya Jihei (Kinshindô) in Edo in 8/1852 for the series Edo Murasaki gojûyon jô (Fifty-four chapters of Edo Purple: 江戸紫五十四帖). Hirosada's contribution depicts two figures on a rainy night in a Hiroshige-style landscape, which appeared on Kunisada's design for Chapter 4 Yûgao ("Evening face": 夕颜). Hirosada signed his name Kunimasu monjin Hirosada ("Drawn by Hirosada, pupil of Kunimasu": 國升門人廣貞画) — see the small rectangular red cartouche at the far middle right on the impression shown immediately below on this page.

Hirosada background on Kunisada printHirosada's actor likenesses (nigao: 似顔) were supremely confident, achieving a high standard of portraiture that would have pleased the patrons of actors and the buyers of ukiyo-e prints, and providing models for contemporary artists and those of the next generation to emulate. His prints explored both the main lines of dramatic kabuki narratives and the more subtle emotional dialogues among the stage characters — including imaginative, interactive arrangements of figures and their expressive physiognomies — that was unusual in nineteenth-century Osaka printmaking.

A superior draftsman and prolific print artist, Hirosada appears to have designed more than 800 prints, nearly all in the chûban format (中判 approx. 250 x 180 mm). Thus his ôban prints (大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm) are few. One example is shown on the left from a series titled Kômei buyûden ("Legendary tales of bravery" or "Tales of brave warriors of renown": 高名武勇傳). The actors are depicted in roundels meant to represent mirrors as well as telescopic views of the performers on stage.

Working predominantly in the small chûban format, Hirosada produced very few ôban prints. One of the exceptions is the design shown at the right depicting Kataoka Gadô II (片岡我童) as Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo (鎮西八郎為朝) in Shimameguri tsuki no yumiharizuki (A bow-shaped moon around the islands: 嶋巡月弓張) at the Ônishi Theater, Osaka. The design is from Hirosada's series Kômei buyûden (Legendary tales of bravery: 高名武勇傳). The historical Minamoto no Tametomo (1139–70) played a role in events precipitating the Genpei wars between the Genji (Minamoto) and Heike (Taira) clans. He fought against the Taira forces led by his brother, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, but was defeated and exiled to the island of Oshima in Izu, from where Tametomo conquered some of the neighboring islands. This brought forth an imperial expeditionary force to hunt him down. With no escape, Tametomo took his own life, said to be the first recorded instance in which a samurai committed ritual suicide by cutting open his abdomen (seppuku: 切腹).

The Tametomo depicted here is based on an epic fictional tale written by Takizawa Bakin (滝沢馬琴 1767–1848). It was published in fiction-book format in 31 volumes from 1807 to 1811 under the title Chinsetsu yumihari zuki (Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon: 椿説弓張月). In this, one of Bakin’s best works, Tametomo finds refuge in Izu, and then in the Ryukyu Islands (where the real-life Tametomo had never been). Bakin's fantasy has Tametomo engendering the ancestors of Ashikaga Takaiji (1305–58), who established the Ashikaga shogunate, its hegemony spanning more than two centuries (1336–1568). When Tametomo shipwrecks at Okinawa in the Ryukyu archipelago, he defends Princess Neiwanjo against a minister plotting to take over her throne. He then marries her and fathers a son who becomes the first in a lineage of Okinawan kings. Aside from Bakin’s saga, further impetus for issuing print designs related to the Tametomo legends was the 1832 publication in Edo of Katsushika Hokusai's "Eight views of Ryukyu" (Ryukyu hakkei, 琉球八景). The landscape series revived interest in the string of islands as a setting for adventure tales.

Hirosada: Jitsukawa Ensaburô (実川延三郎) as Kajiwara Heiji (梶原平次)
Mimasu Daigorô IV (三枡大五郎) as Higuchi Jirô Kanemitsu disguised as sendô (boatman) Matsuemon (松右衛門)
Hiragana seisuiki (Simple chronicle of the fortunes of the Heike and Genji: ひらかな盛衰記)
Series: Chûkô buyûden (Tales of Loyalty, Bravery, & Filial Piety: 忠孝武勇伝)
Wakadayû no Shibai, Osaka; 5/1848

The design above portrays the actors Jitsukawa Ensaburô as Kajiwara Heiji and Mimasu Daigorô IV as Higuchi Jirô Kanemitsu disguised as the boatman Matsuemon in the play Hiragana seisuiki (Simple Chronicle of the Fortunes of the Heike and Genji: ひらかな盛衰記) performed at the Wakadayû Theater, Osaka in 5/1848. The prints bear the marks of the block cutter (hori Sada) and the printer (suri Tami) in the margins, right and left respectively. The designs are each titled Chûkô buyûden ("Chronicles of courage, loyalty, and filial piety": 忠孝武勇伝), a non-theatrical catch-all title that Hirosada used on at least 120 designs for a wide array of polyptychs and single sheets in response to the lingering effects of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms) that halted the production of actor prints in Osaka in 1842. Hiragana seisuiki dramatizes episodes from the war between the Heike and Genji clans in 1184. Matsuemon can be seen at the left carrying a huge oar, which is how he first makes his entrance in the play. He is in disguise in order to infiltrate the Kajiwara clan and exact revenge for their killing his lord. Matsuemon's enemy is the deceitful and ambitious Heiji. The diptych is a brilliantly printed example, with deluxe techniques used for the fabric patterns and the wide range and variable densities of color. Matsuemon's fierceness is evident in his expression and in the unusual exposure of his upper teeth biting down on his lower lip. Heiji's menacing presence is also effectively captured, with his expressive hand gesture and glaring mie ("display").

An example of Hirosada's unusual placement of figures in polyptychs can be seen below in a triptych, a mitate (imaginary performance: 見立) circa mid-to-late 1849. (No performance can be found in the kabuki chronicles with this grouping of actors for this play in Osaka; a different cast performed the play in Kyoto, 8/1849.) The actors Nakamura Daikichi III, Ichikawa Sukejurô I, and Arashi Rikaku II play the roles of Tokihime, Sasaki Takatsuna, and Miuranosuke (right to left) in Kamakura Sandaiki (Chronicle of three generations in Kamakura: 鎌倉三代記), a ten-act puppet play (ningyô jôruri) that premiered in 3/1781 at the Hizen-za, Edo. Kabuki staged it for the first time in 9/1794 at the Kado no Shibai, Osaka; it appeared much later in Edo (2/1818 at the Nakamura-za). The play is based on the battle between Hideyoshi Toyotomi and the Tokugawa forces during the siege of Osaka Castle in 1615. It chronicles those events while setting the action back in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to avoid the Tokugawa shogunate's censorship against staging recent historical events involving the ruling samurai class. So the names of the protagonists were changed; for example, Hôjô Tokimasa was used for Tokugawa Ieyasu, Sakamoto Miuranosuke for Kimura Shigenari, Sasaki Takatsuna for Sanada Yoshimura, and Sasaki Moritsuna for Sanada Nobuyuki. Sakamoto Castle in Kyoto was used instead of Osaka Castle.

Hirosada: [1R] Nakamura Daikichi III (中村大吉) as Toki-hime (時姫), [2R] Ichikawa Sukejurô (市川助寿郎) as Sakai Takatsuna (佐々木高綱), and [3R] Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) as Miuranosuke (三浦之介) in Kamakura sandaiki (Chronicle of three generations in Kamakura: 鎌倉三代記), deluxe chûban triptych, c. 1849

The plot has Sasaki Takatsuna, a general in the Genji clan, fighting the Heike clan at the battle for Sakamoto Castle. He also has a split allegiance to a Heike princess, Toki-hime, and the Genji warrior Sakamoto Miuranosuke, who are lovers. Prevented by their rival clans from marrying, Toki-hime and Miuranosuke hatch a plot to kill Toki-hime's father (the Heike general Hôjô Tokimasa) so that she can be accepted into Miuranosuke's family. Takatsuna comes to their aid when he kills a spy set on revealing the plot. A tragic ending ensues, however, after Miuranosuke dies from wounds suffered in battle and Takatsuna mistakenly beheads Toki-hime; Takatsuna then takes his own life.

In this composition Hirosada explored the effects of variable depths of field within the same composition. The lovers are set farther back from the picture plane than is Takatsuna in the middle sheet, whose form so fills the space that his hand bursts through the confines of the frame. The mie are most effective, as the lovers' backward glances (and their similar positions in the depth of field) unite them symbolically despite the interposed, heroic figure of Takatsuna. This type of subtle but inventive interplay among the figures in multi-sheet bust-portraits became a signature of Hirosada's mature working manner around the beginning of 1849. This is a deluxe edition with metallic pigments. The publisher's seal (Kinkadô) appears in each of the left-hand margins. A second edition omitting luxurious pigments and printing effects was issued by the publisher Tenki.

Further Notes:

The scholar Roger Keyes proposed (Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, 1973) that Hirosada might have been the proprietor of the Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei 天満屋喜兵衞 died 11/1865) publishing firm, which in 1835 changed its name to Tenki Kinkadô Konishi (天喜金花[華]堂小西, the last name thus being the same as Hirosada's surname). However, Hirosada was not the only artist to use the Konishi surname, as Hasegawa Sadanobu I used it at least by 1843 (when, it is said, he was adopted by Tenki), thus suggesting both artists were acknowledging the publisher Tenki in their signatures or seals rather than "declaring" they were proprietors of the firm.

More problematically, Keyes also conjectured that Hirosada was the same artist as Gochôtei Sadahiro (五蝶亭貞廣 act. c. 1830–1853). It is true that Hirosada used a seal reading "Sadahiro" (see table below) and an art name () reading "Gochôtei," which Sadahiro used as well. Moreover, Hirosada's most commonly used was Gosôtei (五粽亭), a name that was also used by Sadahiro. These overlapping names, not to mention the stylistic similarities in print design between the two artists, do bring up interesting associations, but the question of Hirosada's identity remains unresolved. For instance, among the difficulties with this attribution is the simultaneous use of "Sadahiro" and "Hirosada" in the late 1840s and early 1850s, which lacks a convincing explanation. For the time being, the consensus remains that the artists Hirosada and Sadahiro were different print designers. © 2020-2022 by John Fiorillo

Hirosada: Artist Seals

Hirosada used a great variety of artist seals, likely more than 15 and as many as 20, with different readings.

Note: Seals reading Han Sada (板貞) and Kinsekidô (金石堂) have been cited in the literature, but are not yet identified here.

The images of seals shown in the following provisional table were found in various sources; hence, their quality varies significantly. Question marks indicate tentative readings of the seals.

Hirosada signature & gocho seal
Chô (長) Gochô (五長) Gosôtei (五粽亭) Hirosada (廣貞) ?

Hirosada signature & gocho seal
Kô (小)
Konishi Gochô (小西 五長)
Konishi (小西) ?
Rankei (蘭畦)
Sada (貞) Sada-han (貞板) ? Sadahiro (貞廣)  
Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified

Table compiled March 2021. © 2021 by John Fiorillo

There was, as well, an intriguing tendency in Hirosada's prints for connections between particular seals and specific Osaka or Kyoto-branch publishers, as pointed out by Roger Keyes (Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, 1973), who also noted that there were, at the time of his publication, "seven undecipherable seals associated with four other publishers and on unmarked prints." Keyes provided the following list for eight seals with known publishers (shown here in alphabetical order of seal readings):

Hirosada Seal Associated Publisher
Gochô (五長) Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei 天満屋喜兵衞 later Kinkadô 金花[華]堂)
Han Sada (板貞) Daijin (大甚 in Kyoto?)
Kinsekidô (金石堂) Ikekichi (池吉)
(小) Meikôdô (名楽堂)
Konishi Gochô (小西 五長) Kinkadô (Tenki Kinkadô Konishi (天喜金花[華]堂小西)
Rankei (蘭畦) Kawaoto (川音)
Sada (貞) Kinkadô (Tenki Kinkadô Konishi (天喜金花[華]堂小西)
Sada han (貞板) ? Isekichi (伊勢吉 presumably Iseya Kichiemon 伊勢屋吉右衛門)

Pupils of Hirosada

Sadahiro II (二代 貞廣 earlier name Hirokane 廣兼, surname: Mitani 三谷, : Shôkôtei 照皇亭, act. c. 1862–1918)
Sadayuki (貞行 act. c. early 1850s)
Hironobu (廣信 Kinoshita 木下, Hakusuisai 白水齋, Goyôtei 五葉亭, Gohotei 五蒲亭, Tôrin 東林, Ashinoya 芦野家 act. c. 1851–72)

Other possible students include:
Kiyosada (清貞, geimei: Ittôsai Masunobu 一刀齋升信, act. c. 1847–52)
Hiroshige (廣重 act. c. 1849(?)–65); not the same artist as Utagawa Hiroshige I (歌川廣重) in Edo
Hirohisa (廣久 act. c. late 1840s)
Sadahide (貞英, act. c. mid 1860s); not the same artist as Utagawa Sadahide (歌川貞秀) in Edo


  • Halford, Aubrey & Giovanna: The Kabuki Handbook. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 52-62 and pp. 180-186.
  • Ikeda Bunko Shozô: Kamigata Shibai-e Ten Zoroku ["Illustrated Record of an Exhibition of Kamigata Theater Prints"]. Tokyo, 1985, p. 101, #135.
  • Keyes, Roger: Hirosada: Osaka Printmaker. Long Beach: University Art Museum. California State University, 1984. Keyes,
  • Keyes, Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.
  • Kitagawa, Hiroko: Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei (Collection of Kamigata Actor Prints), Vol. IV. Osaka: Ikeda Bunko, 2003.
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