Kyoto was the main center of activity for the production of kappazuri-e (stencil prints, literally, "oil-skin prints": 合羽摺絵), with a tradition spanning close to a century. Prints of teahouse women and courtesans represented one important aspect of this genre, although they amounted to only a small fraction of the total output—among these were the Gion nerimono-e of Kyoto (see references below). Far more common were actor prints (yakusha-e: 役者絵), as in the present example.
Once abundant throughout western Japan (Kansai), kappazuri-e were often printed quickly and in small and cheap editions on thin paper, with fugitive pigments (generally more transparent than those used in nishiki-e — "brocade prints" or full-color prints, 浮世絵), which were brushed through stencils after woodblocks were used to stake out the keyblock lines. It was only in Kyoto that kappazuri-e maintained fairly high standards and enjoyed a measure of respect up to the midpoint of the nineteenth century.
Sadly, almost all stencil prints have perished over time, due to the delicacy of the paper, their generally small size, and the relatively low esteem in which they have been held when compared with nishiki-e (though they, too, were too often neglected). The vast majority of stencil-print designs are now very difficult to find, regardless of condition.
Keisei Ishikawa zome (A courtesan and dyed Ishikawa colors: けいせい石川染) is one of the many Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川 五右衛門物). Although we are unfamiliar with the plot of this drama, Ishikawa Goemon is well documented in history and legend. In real life, Goemon (1558 – 10/8/1594) was the son of the sixteenth-century warrior Takechi (Akechi) Mitsuhide, who was killed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) just before the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate. Hideyoshi ordered the extermination of the entire clan, but the young Goemon survived, and years later sought to avenge his father's death by killing Hideyoshi. After numerous intrigues and escapes (in the theatrical dramas Goemon possesses magical powers and is a master of disguise), he was eventually captured and executed — in real life, by being boiled in oil, along with his son, in a gruesome public spectacle. Goemon's exploits were very popular subjects in legend, songs, narrative fiction, and plays. The mainstay in the kabuki repertoire on this theme is Kinmon (Sanmon) gosan no kiri (The golden gate and paulownia crest: 金門五三桐), first performed in 4/1778 at the Naka Theater, Osaka; it is still popular today.
Ishida no Tsubone, who in a somewhat later Ishikawa Goemon mono titled Keisei setsugekka (Courtesan: Sun, moon, and flowers: けいせい雪月花)) is the mother of Ishikawa Goemon, is married to the Lord of Tajima, who is slain by the Toyotomi clan for siding with the general Mitsuhide. The historical Akechi Jûbei Minamoto-no-Mitsuhide (明智 十兵衛源の光秀 1528-82) served the great daimyô Oda Nobunaga (織信長 1534-82), against whom Mitsuhide rebelled in 1582, which led to Nobunaga's death. The disloyal Mitsuhide was in turn killed by Japan's second great unifier, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98). In the play Keisei setsugekka, Ishida plots to assassinate the regent Hisatsugu (the historical Toyotomi Hidetsugu, 1568-95) but fails and is forced to commit suicide. Her son Goemon's later exploits and intrigues as an outlaw were in part intended to avenge his mother's death.
We haven't quite determined the performance commemorated by this kappazuri-e. It may date from the spring of 1819, when Nizaemon played the role of Ishikawa Goemon (and possibly Ishida no Tsubone) in Keisei Ishikawa zome at the Minamigawa no Shibai, Kyoto. When that theater was destroyed in a fire, he and other actors (including Ichikawa Danzô V and Nakamura Karoku I) relocated to Osaka to perform the same play at the Kita Horie Ichinogawa no Shibai. The following year, in 3-4/1820, Nizaemon toured Nagoya with Ichikawa Danzô V and Asao Kuzaemon I where they performed Keisei Ishikawa zome in the precinct of the Seijuin Temple.
Unlike the vast majority of surviving kappazuri-e, this impression retains much of its original color, with fading of the purple but good retention of the red and yellow. The manner of drawing the nigao (facial likeness) owes much to the Ryûkôsai/Shokôsai lineage of Kamigata printmaking.
We have not located another copy of this design, which is not surprising, given the rarity of surviving kappazuri-e.
References: GPS: "The Gion Parade Stencil Prints." Ujlaki, Peter. In: Andon, no. 63, 1999, pp. 5-16. GNP: "Gion Nerimono Prints Revisited: The List." Ujlaki, Peter and Nakade, Akifumi. In: Andon, no. 75, 2003, pp. 5-48.