The term Taikô (太閤 or 太閣) was used from 882 to 1868 for the highest post (kanpaku, lit., "white barrier,' 関白) at the Imperial court who served as the primary councilor and representative of the emperor. The Taikô is especially associated with the shogun and Japan's second great unifier — the historical Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉 1536-98), a low-born son of a peasant-ashigaru (foot soldier) who ruled Japan from 1685 to 1603 until he was finally defeated by Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康 1543-1616). In the present play taikô is written 大功 ("great success"), punning on Hideyoshi's ascension to power by virtue of his victories during the civil wars and Korean campaigns leading up to Japan's utimate unification under Ieyasu.
Taikô shusse zome (The Taikô's triumphant dye: 大功出世染), a jidaimono (lit., "period piece" or historical drama: 時代物), is one of various plays within the genre called Taikôki mono (Stories about the Taikô: 太閤記物 or 太閣記物). Takechi Sabagorô (the theatrical name for Akechi Mitsuhide, 明智光秀 1528-82) was a rival of the daimyô (lit., "great name": 大名) or shogun Oda Nobunaga (織田信長 1534-82), the first great unifier of Japan. The Akechi clan turned against Nobunaga and lay siege to Honnô Temple in Kyoto, setting it afire and forcing Nobunaga to commit seppuku (ritual suicde: 切腹). Hideyoshi took revenge on the traitors by exterminating the Akechi clan.
According to the Kabuki nenpyô (see KNP-6 below), there were three plays on the program (Ôshû adachigahara, Katsuragwa renri no shigarami, and Taikô shusse zome), for which the actor Jitsukawa Ensaburô I (1813-1867) performed six roles.
This print was published soon after the relaxation of the Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku: 天保改革) ― edicts that in 7/1842 banned actor prints in Osaka, virtually halting print production in Kamigata for five years. The series title, Kômei buyûden (Legendary tales of bravery: 高名武勇傳), is indicative of the guarded approach to Osaka printmaking following the reforms. A gradual weakening of enforcement ensued despite reiterations in 1844 and 1845 by the government of its intention to continue the reforms, and by 1847 relatively normal print production had resumed, although printmakers remained wary for nearly a decade afterwards. The use of didactic or moralizing titles was intended to endow a print with a loftier purpose. Another bit of "camouflage" was the omission of actor names, although the conventional physiognomies were easily identifiable by patrons of Osaka prints, who would have been intimately familiar with the performers and current stage productions. These transparent gestures would not have fooled the censors, but avoiding explicit references to actors apparently satisfied the letter of the law.
The portraits within roundels found in the series Kômei buyûden were part of a vogue for such compositions that simultaneously represented "mirrors" (kagami: 鑑 or 鏡) of actors and telescopic views influenced by the importation of Western scopic instruments. Another influence might have been the "ceiling curtains" (tenjômaku: 天井幕) of roundel portraits painted on cloths that were presented to actors.
*** Ôban-size prints constitute a very small percentage of Hirosada's designs — especially in such fine condition as the present example.
Provenance: Haber Collection; see Dean Schwaab, Osaka Prints, no. 202 for this same impression. Note, however, that the play listed by Schwaab is incorrect.
References: Schwaab OSP, no. 202; KNP-6, p. 500