We have not located a synopsis for the play Azuma miyage Date no hinagata (A Date-pattern gift in the east: 東部産伊達雛形), but the inclusion of the role of Nikki Danjo points obviously to at least one sub-plot featuring the intrigues over the succession within the Date clan of Sendai (仙台) in eastern Japan during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. (Sendai was founded in 1600 by the daimyô Date Masamune, 伊達政宗 1567-1636.) The classic play on this theme is Meiboku sendai hagi (Bush clover, the famous tree of Sendai: 伽羅先代萩). It was so popular during the Edo period that it had at least one performance nearly every year after its premiere in 1777. It also spawned a number of adaptations, such as Hagi wa Sendai na wa Matsumoto (Matsumoto and the famous autumn flowers of Sendai: 秋花先代名松本), as well as the present example, Azuma miyage Date no hinagata. In the play, Nikki Danjo conspires to overthrow Ashikaga (a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name) Yorikane, but he is foiled in the end and slain.
For another design by Hirosada about this play, see HSD17.
Elements of this design fall within the guarded approach to Osaka printmaking following the Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku: 天保改革), edicts that in 7/1842 banned actor prints in Osaka, virtually halting print production in Kamigata for five years. A gradual weakening of enforcement ensued despite reiterations in 1844 and 1845 by the government of its intention to continue the reforms, and by 1847 relatively normal print production had resumed, though printmakers played their cards close to their vests for nearly a decade afterwards. One sign of this caution was the rather transparent use of didactic or moralizing titles to endow a print with a loftier purpose. The cartouche at the upper left reads Chûkô buyûden ("Chronicles of courage, loyalty, and filial piety"), a title Hirosada used on various prints of this period. Another bit of "camouflage" was the omission of actor names (the cartouche at the upper right carries only the role name), although patrons of yakusha-e hardly needed the inscribed names, as the physiognomies were easily identifiable, and they would have also been intimately familiar with current stage productions. No one, including government censors, was fooled into thinking that such images were anything but actor prints. Still, the gesture helped satisfy the letter of the law.
Hirosada was at the peak of his powers by the late 1840s. This portrait is emblematic of his work during this period — a stop-action, close-up mie (display or dramatic pose: 見得) of an actor at a climatic moment in a play, bedecked in vivid robes, his nigao (likeness: 似顔) true to the conventions followed in Osaka yakusha-e (actor prints: 役者絵).
References: WAS-VI, no. 6-092; IKBYS-IV, no. 111; IKB-I, p. 104, 2-497