Utagawa (Ichijusai) Kunitsuru (一壽齋國鶴 1807-78; family name Wada 和田; personal name Yasugorô 安五郎; later art name Utagawa Toyoshige II, 二代目 歌川豊重). Kunitsuru was a student of Utagawa Toyokuni II, 一代目 歌川豊國 (Toyoshige I, 一代目 豊重, 1775-1835), visited Osaka in 1835, so we assume this print was issued about that time. Born in Tsukuji, Edo, Kunitsuru lived and worked for a while in Osaka before returning to Edo. His residences are known to include Asakusa Hanakawadô; a nagaya in Tozawa; lodging with Niikado Shingorô; and Shitaya Kotoku-ji Yokochô (after the earthquake of 1855). He moved to Yokohama some time in the 1860s to Hon-mura, then Basha-dô; after the Yokohama fire to Okina-machi. Around 1877 he ran a bookstore in Yoshida-chô. Except for the present Osaka design, his known works are actor prints in the Utagawa style and Yokohama-e. He also provided designs for kimono embroideries, votive plaques, picture lanterns, and tattoos.
We are uncertain about the role or scenes in this unidentified play. It is possible (though unconfirmed by us) that Kunitsuru's portrayal of Hinasuke VI is in some way related to Sumidagawa hana no goshozome, written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV, which premiered in 3/1814 at the Ichimura-za, Edo. Commonly called "Onna Seigen," it was a complex play in six acts with 19 scenes that mixed four settings or "worlds" (sekai), adapting themes from Kagamiyama, the Abbot Seigen/Princess Sakura tale (transforming the priest Seigen into a nun), the Sumidagawa story, and the Dôjôji legend (the transformation of Seigen into a serpent within a temple bell).
Roundel portraits were understood to be both reflections of actors in mirrors and telescopic close-ups of mie (climactic poses) on the stage. Moreover, the floral elements placed behind the roundel evokes tenjômaku (天井幕) or "ceiling curtains," portraits inside medallions with floral backgrounds on cloth that were given as gifts to actors. Moreover, most of these portraits depicted actors while in performance, as though "telescoping" or zooming in on the actor's mie (dramatic pose: 見得), suggesting some influence from imported Western scopic devices.
The image on this impression is virtually full size, with thin margins intact at the top and bottom. Although it falls a little below our usual condition standards, we offer it as a special opportunity for those who want a rare ôkubi-e ("large-head picture" or bust portrait: 大首絵) at a bargain price.