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Ichikawa Danjuro VII

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Danjuro VII (1791-1859) was the most popular of nineteenth-century Kabuki actors. He made his stage debut at the age of four and went on to astonish the public with his ability to handle every major type of role. He was particularly noted for his portrayal of audacious young heroes in the ‘rough-stuff’ (aragoto) acting style established by the Ichikawa lineage. He became wealthy and constructed an ostentatious villa with extensive gardens in Edo (Tokyo). In the summer of 1842 he was arrested and found guilty of violating the sumptuary laws. His home was demolished and he was banished from Edo until 1850. Four years later his eldest son (Danjuro VIII, 1823-1854) committed suicide. His father was devastated but continued to act until his death in 1859.

Kunisada was evidently particularly inspired by Danjuro VII. They were near contemporaries: Danjuro VII’s first great stage success occurred in 1811, when Kunisada was establishing his reputation as a designer of actor prints. Over the next fifty years Kunisada depicted Danjuro VII more frequently than any other actor, both in commercially published prints and books, and in privately issued surimono, some of which document their acquaintance in private life. Kunisada’s sada seal, which he occasionally added beneath his signature, sometimes took the form of the mimasu (triple rice-measure) that was the Danjuro’s acting crest (mon).

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Organised for Japan 2001

The Fitzwilliam Museum is especially grateful to John Carpenter, Tim Clark, Paul M. Griffith, Hideyuki Iwata and Ellis Tinios for their generous help during the preparation of this exhibition.

Funded by Japan 2001