Meiboku sendai hagi (Sandalwood and bush clover of Sendai: 伽羅先代萩) dramatized the intriques over succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the
third quarter of the seventeenth century. It was performed in an alternate sekai ("world" or theatrical setting: 世界), set back in time during the Onin civil war under the Ashikaga shogunate of the fifteenth century (Ashikaga thus becomes a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name). It is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had
at least one performance nearly every year since its premiere in 1777. The fictionalized central story involved Lord Ashikaga Yorikane's (足利頼錦) forays into the pleasure quarter and his murder of the courtesan Takao (高尾). This episode is an amplification of an actual incident in which the twenty-one-year-old clan leader Date Tsunamune became the lover of the Yoshiwara courtesan Takao, causing a scandal that led to his downfall. Another story line involves Nikki Danjô (Yorikane's evil nephew who possessed supernatural powers and could transform himself into a rat), the orchestrator of a conspiracy
to overthrow Yorikane. The intrigue failed, however, and Nikki was
Sawamura Tosshô I (1802-11/1853) was one of several geimei (stage names: 芸名) used by Edo actor Sawamura Gennosuke II (沢村源之助), whose haigô (poetry name: 俳号) was Tosshô (訥升). He performed in Kamigata through much of the 1820s and again around the mid 1830s.
This is an eye-catching uki-e (perspective print, lit., "floating picture": 浮絵 or 浮繪) with sharply converged receding space. A rare design (unrecorded in the sources known to us), it depicts Takao and Yorikane in a large and elaborately appointed Ashikaga vessel. The inclusion of an actor trained in the Edo-based Sawamura family also makes this an uuncommon design.
The preservation of colors in this impression is remarkable, with only a bit of fading of the purple at the far edges of the design. The intense pink used for the coral forms on Takao's robe is the sort of ideal beni (red) mixture that is rarely available to collectors today. There is also an unusual two-color Tenki seal on the right sheet.
This is a rare design, known to us in only two other impressions: Kubosô Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi, and The National Gallery, Prague (Vm413-1271-64-48).
References: NKE, p. 396