The play Tenmangû aiju no meiboku (Love under the plum, pine, and cherry at the heaven filling shrine: 天満宮愛梅松桜) appears to be related to, or an adaptation of, the famous puppet and kabuki play Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (Mirror of transmission and learning of Sugawara's Calligraphic Secrets: 菅原伝授手習鑑) based on legends surrounding the life of Sugawara Michizane (845-903: 菅原道真), also known as Kan Shôjô (菅丞相). For instance, the "plum, pine, and cherry" in our translation of the Tenmangû title alludes to the triplets Umeômaru, Matsuômaru, and Sakuramaru, respectively, in the Sugawara play. There is also a likely connection between the play title and both the historical and dramaturgic Sugawara Michizane with respect to the Shinto shrine Kitano Tenmangû (北野天満宮) in Kyoto, which the imperial court built and dedicated to Sugawara Michizane in 986.
This is a late work by the venerable Hokushû, and certainly one of his most celebrated and sought-after designs. Sumptuously printed, with metallic pigments, it features a dramatic contrast between the heavily printed figures and the more subdued background, which is rendered in the uki-e ("floating picture": 浮絵 or 浮繪) manner, that is, the single-vanishing-point perspective that Japanese artists of the Tokugawa period picked up from Western art.
There is no publisher seal on any of the sheets, and given the deluxe production values, it seems safe to claim that this triptych was produced for private distribution in much the same manner as were surimono. Most likely, the event calling for this extraordinary triptych was the shûmei ("succession to a name": 襲名) of the actor Ichikawa Ichizô II, who acceded to the name Ebijûrô II.
Impressions of this triptych, complete and with good colors and overall condition, are exceedingly difficult to find. This triptych design is truly an brilliant example of Osaka printmaking at its finest!
References: IKBYS-I, no. 173; OSP, p. 132, no. 118; KNP-6, p. 175; IKB-I, 456