This is one of Enjaku's designs for the series Nanatsu iroha (Seven syllables of the Japanese alphabet), a group of prints that he co-designed with Kunikazu and Yoshitaki, which were all published by Ishiwa. This deluxe-edition set was issued for various performances circa 1857-1865, plus a few mitate ("view and compare," or analogue pictures) for imaginary productions with casts of actors who never actually performed together at the time. Each design included seven different ideograms or kanji pronounced the same, either matching the pronunciation of the first character of the actor's role or suggesting an alternate association with the actor, role, or play. All the designs include a hand scroll at the top with the actor's name (if included), play title, and series title. Enjaku's signatures on his designs are placed in either the scroll or the background behind the actors.
Enjaku's print features Ichikawa Yonezô III as Owari Dennai in the play Katakiuchi ura no asagiri (Revenge along the bay in morning fog: 敵討浦朝霧) performed at the Zama Theater, Osaka in 10/1864. In the center of the scroll are seven characters (each pronounced "o" for Owari) printed in metallics against a black ground. This kabuki saga involved an attempted usurpation of the leadership of the Aboshi clan by a villain named Karahashi and his son. Dennai, a hunter and a relative of the true heir, was sent to terminate the plot. Enjaku's signature is at the far middle right. Ishiwa's mark is in the lower left margin. Yonezô's blue outer robe has a design composed of alternating "cross + wings" butterflies and "cross + dots kasuri" ("splashed pattern") that constitute stylized crests for the actor Yonezô. The cool blue and gray palette and the falling snow help to establish an atmosphere of cold determination appropriate to the plot of the play.
Enjaku's (猿雀 active 1856-66) prints survive in very small numbers and are difficult to obtain. Although nothing is known about his biography, he is arguably the most important transitional artist entering the last phase of printmaking in Osaka. He specialized in deluxe editions of ôkubi-e (large-head pictures: 大首絵) in chûban format; a high percentage of these survive in very small numbers, some in only a single impression.
For more about this artist, see Enjaku Biography.
A very good example of an early single-portrait close-up design by this enigmatic artist (active 1856-66) with application of gold-colored metallic pigments; very few impressions are known! See John Fiorillo and Hendrick Lühl, "Enjaku," Andon special monograph, 2006, no. 1.12, p. 84 for another impression of this design.