Shikan II was an early name used by Nakamura Utaemon IV (1796-1852), the son of a teahouse owner and a disciple (and adopted son) of the great Nakamura Utaemon III. Although most celebrated for his performances of tachiyaku (leading men, literally "standing actor": 立役) in jidaimono ("period pieces" or history plays:(時代物), he was also skilled in dance.
The play Imayo mitsu no shichigashira — whose title may be translated as "Three lion heads in springtime" — was a popular performance of a multi-actor hengemono ("transformation piece" - a sequence of brief dances, sometimes performed as hayagawari mono or "quick-change pieces"). Shikan II performed three roles (Shakkyô [actually Satake Shinjûrô]; Sogo Gorô; and a yakko, or servant, 奴); the other roles were performed by Sawamura Kunitarô II, Nakamura Matsue III, and Seki
Soga mono (plays about the Soga brothers and their plot to avenge their father's death: 曾我物) were represented by an array of plays, dances, and musical narratives, often produced at the New Year (as here in Ashiyuki's print). Based principally on the Soga monogatari (Tales of the Soga Brothers: 曾我物語) of the late Kamakura period (1185-1392: 鎌倉), they were enormously popular dramas. Rarely did a season pass without at least one performance about the Soga in each of the main theaters, and it is said that more than 300 plays have been produced in kabuki.
Shikan's red hakama (long-legged trousers: 袴) are decorated with Soga Gorô's signature emblem, chô (butterfly: 蝶). He holds a closed ôgi (folding fan: 扇). The first two lines of the inscription at the upper right (near the role and actor names) read Shosagoto kyû maizoku no uchi ("Sequence of nine dances"); the poem at the upper left is signed by the actor Shikan (芝翫).
References: KNZ, no. 433; KNP-6, p. 154; IKB-I, no. 1-450; NKE, p. 608