The play Hiyokumon kuruwano nishiki-e (Brocade picture of lovers' crests in the pleasure quarter: 双紋廓錦絵) is based on tales featuring Hirai Gonpachi (白井権八), hero of various sewamono ("everyday pieces" or domestic dramas: 世話物) with his lover Komurasaki (小紫), along with the otokodate (lit., "standing man," i.e., chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) Banzuin Chôbei (幡随長兵衛). Although fictionalized Gonpachi-Komurasaki-mono (plays about Gonpachi and Komurasaki: 権八小紫物) derive from actual persons and events, there was apparently no actual historical connection between Gonpachi and Chôbei. The real-life samurai Shirai Gonpachi (白井権八) from Tottori province, who was guilty of murder and robbery, met his demise by execution in 1679. The legendary Banzuin Chôbei (c. 1622-1657) is said to have been killed by Mizuno Jûrozaemon, a leader of hatamoto-yakko (bannermen footsoldiers: 旗本奴).
One theatrical adaptation featuring Gonpachi bestows notoriety upon him by the tender age of sixteen when he was already famous for his good looks, courage, and swordsmanship. He kills a fellow samurai and flees to Edo, where at an inn he is warned by a fifteen-year-old beauty named Komurasaki (小紫) that the owner is a gang leader plotting to murder him for his sword. Gonpachi swiftly kills all ten of the gang. Afterwards he visits the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter and finds Komurasaki at the Miuraya brothel, now a prostitute selling herself to earn money for her destitute parents. Without the funds to ransom her, Gonpachi turns to a life of debauchery, supporting himself by robbery and murder. When he is finally captured and executed, the devoted Komurasaki takes her life at his grave. To honor their memory, sympathetic citizens build a tumulus called hiyokuzuka (lovers' tomb) and temple priests carve a picture of the Hiyoku no tori (比翼鳥), a mythical love-bird — both male and female, each with one eye and one wing — that when flying join as one sex, symbolizing connubial love and fidelity.
This is only the third time, in over a decade online, that we have offered a design by Kiyosada, whose works are rather uncommon. He might have been a follower of Hirosada (the scholar Roger Keyes asserts that Kiyosada styled his signature after Hirosada's — see TWOP below), and his active period seems to have been brief, circa 1847-53.
As in the manner of virtually all Hirosada prints, Kiyosada's diptych is finely printed. The darkened areas are the result of tarnishing (de-oxydation) of the blue pigments (this is not considered a condition issue; in fact, since the early days of ukiyo-e collecting, some tarnishing of certain pigments was deemed desirable). Regardless, the colors here are very well preserved.
References: WAS-VI, no. 11 (inv. 016-1002-1003; TWOP, p. 268