Torii Kiyonobu I (1664-1729)

Torii Kiyonobu is considered the originator of yakusha-e (actor portraits). It is said that his father was employed as a kabuki actor in Osaka and at the same time, under the name Kiyomoto, drew advertising-board pictures for theaters. Later, father and son moved to Edo, where Kiyomoto continued to paint advertisements. But because none of Kiyomoto's paintings survive, Kiyonobu is considered the "founder" of the Torii school of painters. The same Torii family has continued through the present day to work as "hereditary artists" attached to kabuki theaters and producing signboards for them. In addition to his advertising paintings, Kiyonobu has left us several masterpieces of ukiyoe woodblock prints. His ukiyoe portraits of actors all have a bold touch, either in monochrome black or with the addition of vermilion, green, yellow, and indigo. For these yakusha-e he used techniques similar to those used for signboards, as if he were trying to make his subjects easily seen from a distance. The thick, burly legs of his actor portraits were colloquially known as "gourd legs" (hyotan-ashi), and curving lines with an ornamental function were called "earthworm drawing" (mimizu-gaki). The Torii school of painters produced such important Edo-period artists as Kiyomasu, Kiyomasu II, Kiyomitsu, Kiyomitsu II, and Kiyonaga.