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Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891)
A New Years' still life: Okina, the black lacquered mask of a laughing old man with long white whiskers and eyebrows; behind lies a bundled red silk cord.
Signature and seal: Zeshin
Publisher: Matsuki Heikichi (Daikokuya), Tokyo
Original Japanese colour woodblock print. Size: Shikishiban, 24 x 25 cm (overall)
Excellent early impression with excellent colours. Untrimmed and unbacked. Some faint stains, an unobtrusive (printers?) box-pleat, tiny dog-ear in bottom right corner. Overall excellent and crisp condition. A very rare print. Ill. in Milne Henderson, Zeshin & Related Artists, London, o.J. (1978), No. 9. Cf. also Smithsonian, No. S2003.8.2186.
The mask of the old man (Okina), bringing good luck and promising long life, is used in one of the oldest and most sacred dance pieces of the Noh theatre. It is traditionally performed at the beginning of a performance, as well as at festivals and the New Year. The black version of this mask (Kokushikijô) is used in the Sanbasô dance, which is supposed to pray for good soil and a rich harvest in the coming year.