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Utamaro print showing


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Tessai Nobukatsu (哲齋信勝)


Tessai Nobukatsu (哲齋信勝 act. c. 1829 to 1841) was a pupil of Ryûsai Shigeharu (鉚齋重春) circa 8/1829, and with Sadamasu I (貞升) circa 1/1833. He signed his earliest known print as Ryûkyôtei Shigenao (柳狂亭重直) in 7/1829, but appears to have produced very few print designs in the years that followed, despite having an estimated active period of more than a decade. Currently, slightly more than ten prints are known, although unquestionably more were published, some of which may be identified as research continues. Presumably, Nobukatsu was involved in other endeavors, which would have been consistent with the skilled-amateur status of nearly all print artists working in Osaka. He seems to have ended his printmaking career just as the draconian Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô Reforms: 天保改革) were issued; in 7/1842, these edicts banned, among other things, prints of kabuki actors and publication of stories associated with the theater.

Tessai Nobukatsu 1830 kan shojo
Tessai Nobukatsu (哲齋信勝)
Onoe Baikô (尾上梅幸) [poetry name of Kikugorô III: 三代目 尾上菊五郎] as Kan Shôjô (管相々)
Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (菅原伝授手習鑑)
(Mirror of learning & transmitting Sugawara's secrets of calligraphy), Takeda Theater, Osaka, 3/1830
Woodblock print, ôban (369 x 249 mm), pub. by Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衛 seal: Tenki 天喜)

A fine example of Nobukatsu's work is shown above, a portrayal of Onoe Kikugorô III (三代目 尾上菊五郎] as Kan Shôjô (管相々) in the play Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (Mirror of learning & transmitting Sugawara's secrets of calligraphy: 菅原伝授手習鑑) staged at the Takeda Theater, Osaka in 3/1830. The print is signed Tessai Nobukatsu ga (Drawn by Tessai Nobukatsu: 哲齋信勝画). The play, originally written for bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽) by a quartet of playwrights in 1746, was adapted for kabuki in 1747. It is based on legends surrounding the life of Sugawara Michizane (845-903: 菅原道真), also known as Kan Shôjô (菅丞相). Founder of the Kanke school of calligraphy and a favorite of Emperor Daigo, he was given, in 899, the second highest government post — Minister of the Right — which incensed an envious political rival named Fujiwara no Tokihira (Fujiwara no Shihei in the play). Fujiwara maneuvered successfully to have Kan Shôjô exiled to Kyûshû. After Kan Shôjô's death, plague and drought spread throughout Japan and the sons of Emperor Daigo died in succession. The Imperial Palace's Great Audience Hall was struck repeatedly by lightning, igniting fires, and Kyoto was battered by rainstorms and floods. Attributing these calamities to Sugawara's vengeful spirit, the imperial court built and dedicated to him a Shinto shrine in 986 called Kitano Tenmangu (北野天満宮) in Kyoto. The court also posthumously restored his title and office, and removed records of his exile. Sugawara was deified as a Tenjin (Heavenly [Sky] deity: 天神), and many Shinto shrines in Japan were and continue to be dedicated to him.

The scene depicted in Nobukatsu's print is from Act IV after the exiled Kan Shôjô vowed to journey to the summit of Mount Tenpai to follow austere disciplines, swear oaths to the gods, and become a ghostly lord of thunder. He is shown here on Mt. Tenpai (Tenpaisan) as the God of Thunder, praying in a violent lightning storm. As he speaks, a storm rises up, and despite the efforts of his retainers to stop him, he flies off into the sky, already beginning to transform into a vengeful thunder spirit. Most surviving examples of this design suffer from fading. It is only in an impression such as the one shown here that we can appreciate the intention of the artist and his publisher, and the drama of the presentation.

Tessai Nobukatsu 1830 kan shojo
"Shigenao aratame Nobukatsu ga" ("Drawn by Shigenao changing to Nobukatsu": 重直改信勝画)
Ichikawa Hakuen II (市川白猿) as Oniwakamaru at Mount Shosha (書写山 の鬼若丸)
Oniwaka nagori no motodori (Oniwaka's farewell topknot: 鬼若名残髻)
Naka Theater, Osaka, 9/1829
Woodblock print, ôban, pub. by Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衛 seal: Tenki 天喜)

Oniwaka nagori no motodori (Oniwaka's farewell topknot: 鬼若名残髻) was a dance sequence of five hayagawari mono (quick-change pieces: 早替り物). Ichikawa Hakuen II, the temporary acting name used in Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto region) by the Edo superstar Ichikawa Danjûrô VII, performed all five roles: Oniwakamaru (鬼若丸), Atakaseki Benki (あたか関べんけい), an unnamed ice-water vendor (reisui uri: 冷水うり), Monokawa Kurando (者川蔵人), and Yanone Gorô (矢の根五郎). In the print shown above, Oniwakamaru, in bravura style, subdues an adversary. The print is signed "Shigenao aratame Nobukatsu ga" ("Drawn by Shigenao changing to Nobukatsu": 重直改信勝画). This set of five works seems to be the earliest use of the Nobukatsu art name (the Benkei design from this set is also known, with the same signature; the remaining three prints are yet to be found). Oniwakamaru ("Little Devil") was the childhood nickname of the warrior-priest Benkei. One of his most famous exploits, though not depicted in this dance sequence, was to avenge the death of his mother by killing a giant carp that had devoured her after she fell into a pool.

Tessai Nobukatsu 1833 oguri hangan
Tessai Nobukatsu (哲齋信勝)
Signature: Sadamasu monjin Nobukatsu ga (貞升門人信勝画)
"Drawn by Sadamasu's pupil Nobukatsu"
Arashi Rikan II (二代目 嵐璃寛) as Oguri Hangan Kaneuji (小栗判官兼氏)
Hime kurabe futaba ezôshi (姫競双葉絵草紙), Naka Theater, 1/1833
"Picture-book comparison of twin blades and the princess"
Woodblock print, ôban, pub. by Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衛 seal: Tenki 天喜)

Shown immediately above is another of the prints that Nobukatsu signed to acknowledge a tutelage, this time with Sadamasu (貞升 later called Gochôtei Kunimasu, 五蝶亭國升). The play commemorated here is Hime kurabe futaba ezôshi (Picture-book comparison of twin blades and the princess: 姫競双葉絵草紙), first performed in 1800. It is one in a long series of jidaimono ("period pieces" or history plays: 時代物) categorized as Oguri Hangan mono (or Oguri mono, "Oguri Hangan plays": 小栗判官物) for both the puppet and kabuki theaters going back to the 1660s. These tales, mixing the historical with the fictional, took their inspiration from various legends about Oguri, as well as from Chikamatsu Monzaemon's (近松門左衛門) 1698 puppet play Tôryû Oguri Hangan (當世流小栗判官). The military chronicle Kamakura daizôshi ("Great copybook of Kamakura": 鎌倉大絵双紙) also served as a source of information. The kabuki play is set during the Kamakura period (1186-1336) and features the master of Hitachi Castle, Oguri Hangan Sukeshige (小栗判官助重), and his wife, Yokohama Terute (照天姫). Oguri's adventures follow many complicated paths, including political and military intrigues and supernatural episodes, his death due to poisoning by Terute's father and brother, and his resurrection and revenge against his wife's family. The inscription is transliterated as まはゆしや花のあたりのこの日の出 (Ma wa yushi ya / hana no atari no / kono hinode). Earlier, deluxe-edition impressions do not have the yellow background, but they do have a hand-stamped red seal placed after the poem in the form of a tachibana (orange-blossom: 橘), Rikan's acting crest, to which the character "ren" (poetry circle: 連) has been added. Thus, it would seem that the design was commissioned by a poetry club to which both Nobukatsu and Rikan II belonged.

Tessai Nobukatsu 1833 oguri hangan
Tessai Nobukatsu: Gassaku (collaborative print: 合作)
Title: Ryûkô dan hamaguri gata (Fashionable groupings of clam forms: 流行團蛤形)
Top Row Artists: (1R) Utagawa Nobukatsu (歌川信勝); (2R) Utagawa Sadahiro ga (歌川貞廣画)
Bottom Row Artists: (1R) Utagawa Sadamaru (歌川貞丸); (2R) Sadamasu monjin Nobukatsu ga (貞升門人信勝画)
Top Row Actors: (1R) Arashi Rikan II (二代目嵐璃寛); (2R) Iwai Shijaku I (一代目 岩井紫若)
Bottom Row Actors: (1R) Nakamura Utaemon III (三代目 中村歌右衛門); (2R) Onoe Tamizô II (二代目 尾上多蔵)
Top row Roles: (1R) The fisherman [ryôshi] Fukashichi (漁師浪七); (2R) nyôbô Yaji (女房やじ)
Bottom Row Roles: (1R) Ishikawa Goemon (石川五石衛門); (2R) Kano Utanosuke (狩野歌之助)
Woodblock print, ôban, 1/1833, no publisher seal

Another work from 1/1833 with a "Sadamasu monjin Nobukatsu" signature is shown above. This ôban sheet features four koban-size (小判 approx. 230 x 160 mm) actor portraits, two by Nobukatsu (top right and bottom left), and one each by Utagawa Sadahiro (top left) and Utagawa Sadamaru (bottom right). Identifications of the actors and roles are given above in the image caption. Two plays have been identified so far: Hime kurabe futaba ezoshi (Picture-book comparison of twin blades and the princess: 姫競双葉絵草紙) at the Naka Theater, Osaka, for Nobukatsu's portrait of Arashi Rikan II, and Keisei chigogafuchi (A courtesan and deep water at Chigo: けいせい稚児淵) for Sadamaru's depiction of Nakamura Utaemon III at the Kado Theater, Osaka; both plays were staged in 1/1833. Gassaku (collaborative or collective works: 合作), which were popular in Osaka printmaking, comprised paintings, drawings, and prints on the same theme in a shared pictorial space by two or more artists, often involving artists of comparable status, as in the present example, but occasionally combining designs by teachers and their students.

As with so many other print artists in Osaka, Nobukatsu was a participant in poetry circles. There is a poem (one of seven) on a double-ôban surimono by Shunkôsai Hokushû from 3/1824 that has a signature reading Tessai (哲齋) — presumably, this is the artist Nobukatsu (see Keyes ref. below). The Hokushû print (see Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, no. 11.26637-8) portrays Nakamura Matsue III (中村松江) as Otaka (おたか), Ichikawa Ebijûrô I (市川鰕十) as Mokuemon (杢右衛), and Ichikawa Danzô V (市川國蔵) as Yashichi (弥). If Nobukatsu did indeed participate as a poet, his profile among the versifiers in the amateur print-and-poetry world would help to explain why he, an artist who produced very few prints, was granted a commission to design the following deluxe print.

Tessai Nobukatsu 1837 rikan tsuizen-e
Tessai Nobukatsu (哲齋信勝)
Signature: ôju Tessai sha (応需哲齋寫)
"Sketched by Tessai, by request"
Tsuizen-e (memorial print: 追善絵) for Arashi Rikan II (二代目 嵐璃寛), 6/1837
with 16 memorial haiku eulogizing the actor's life and achievements
Deluxe woodblock print, ôban, pub. by Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衛 seal: Tenki 天喜)

The woodcut shown above is a special-issue tsuizen-e (memorial print: 追善絵) commemorating the death of Arashi Rikan II in 6/1837. A group of sixteen kabuki fans and amateur poets collaborated by contributing poems eulogizing the much loved and admired actor. The poems were composed in the manner of linked verse offering many associations among the verses. The poem given a place of prominence is inscribed on the fan and is signed "Korin" (虎隣), who might have been the editor of the collection. The headnote reads: Tsuitô yanagidaru-fû (Memorial in the style of Haifû yanagidaru: 追悼柳樽風), and the poem reads: Gokuraku mo / arashi de hazumu / bon-gawari (In Paradise, too, / All delight at the storm / as good as Bon Festival: 極楽もあらしてはすむ盆替り追加). The Haifû yanagidaru (誹風柳多留) was an ongoing multi-volume collection of senryû (light satirical or comic, even limerick-style verses: 川柳) published almost every year between 1765 and 1840 and numbering 167 issues in all. As for the poem, it suggests is that kabuki fans in Paradise have greeted Rikan enthusiastically, and that his arrival is as good as going back home to honor the dead during the annual Bon matsuri (Bon Festival: 盆祭) in early autumn when the spirits of the dead return to be welcomed by their families. There are puns on the words arashi ("storm," 嵐, but also Rikan's kabuki clan name) and bon-gawari, referring to the Bon Festival.

There was widespread grief in the kabuki world following Rikan’s passing. Shini-e (death prints: 死絵) and tsuizen-e (memorial prints: 追善絵) were published as tributes from artists such as Tessai Nobukatsu, Ganjôsai Kunihiro, Sekkôtei Hokumyô, Hasegawa Sadanobu, and Hasegawa Sadaharu. Nobukatsu's design was carved and printed as a jôzuri-e ("top-quality" or deluxe print: 上摺絵) matching the quality of many privately commissioned surimono. It was arguably the finest print eulogizing the death of Arashi Rikan II.

The reasons for Nobukatsu's very small production of print designs over more than a decade of activity remain unknown. Had he been prolific, one wonders whether he might have sustained as high a level of artistry as he did with the fine designs illustrated on this page. If he had done so, Nobukatsu would be considered one of the leading print designers during the second quarter of the nineteenth century in Osaka.

Tessai Nobukatsu's names

Yanagawa (柳川) in 1831 (possibly suggesting a link with Yanagawa Shigenobu (柳川重信)?
Utagawa (歌川) in 1833

Art names (geimei):
Tessai (哲齋) poem on surimono by Hokushû (3/1824); geimei on tsuizen-e for Arashi Rikan II (6/1837)
Shigenao (重直) in 1829 (with the Ryûkyôtei, 柳狂亭)
Nobukatsu (信勝) at least by 9/1829

Art names ():
Ryûkyôtei (重直) in 1829 (with the geimei Shigenao, 重直)
Tessai (哲齋) at least by 3/1830; also geimei in 6/1837 on tsuizen-e for Arashi Rikan II
Gokyôtei (五狂亭) in 1829

Tessai Nobukatsu's pupils

So far, no pupils have been identified.

©2021 by John Fiorillo


  • Doesburg, Jan van: Osaka Kagami. Dodewaard: Huys den Esch, 1985, p. 81, no. 69.
  • Gerstle, Drew: Kabuki heroes on the Osaka stage 1780-1830. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005, pp. 272-273, no. 255b.
  • Keyes, Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 237, 270, no. 268-270, 314.
  • Kitagawa, Hiroko and Matsudaira, Susumu: Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei (Collection of Kamigata Actor Prints), Vol. III. Osaka: Ikeda Bunko, 2001 [上方役者絵集成 : 財団法人阪急学園池田文庫所蔵 第三巻], p. 126, no. 570.
  • Lühl, Hendrick: Schätze der Kamigata: Japanische Farbenholzschnitte aus Osaka, 1780-1880 (Treasures of Osaka: Japanese Color Prints from Osaka, 1780-1880). Musee National d'Histoire et d'Art Luxembourg, 2013.,pp. 247, 271, no. 535.
  • Matsudaira, Susumu: Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei (Collection of Kamigata Actor Prints), Vol. II. Osaka: Ikeda Bunko, 1998. [上方役者絵集成 : 財団法人阪急学園池田文庫所蔵 第二巻], p. 127, nos. 391-392.
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