FIREFIGHTER AND MATOI (Toyohara Kunichika)

N.1 ukiyo-e woodblock print
Year: 1871
Condition: good
Size: 24,5 x 34,5 cm



Fascinating original woodblock print made in May 1871 by Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周) and depicting a firefighter of Tokyo, played by the actor Ichikawa Sadanji (市川左団次), showing off a striking back tattoo while holding a matoi (纏), a sort of standard that had the function both of identifying the brigades and, placed on a roof, of signaling the fire inside or near a building. The title of the work is “Flowers of Tokyo” (東京の花), the ironic nickname with which the inhabitants of the capital called the numerous fires that “bloomed” in their city, built almost entirely with wood, paper and straw.

Tokyo firemen, a very popular subject among ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artists, were seen by common people with a mixture of admiration and fear. Because of the importance of their task, they were surrounded by an aura of providentiality and, therefore, of impunity. They were often rough men and many citizens even thought they were more dangerous than the fires they were supposed to extinguish.

The work, printed by the publisher Shimizuya Naojiro (清水屋直次郎), is in overall good condition, although it shows some signs of aging: in particular, a general slight wrinkling of the paper and slit marks on the right margin.