Keisei ishikawa zome (A courtesan and dyed Ishikawa colors: けいせい石川染), one of the many Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川 五右衛門物). There was an earlier play called Katakiuchi midô mae (Vengeance before the palace: 敵討御堂前), which also went by the name Midô mae no adauchi (Revenge before the palace: 御堂前の仇討). This vendetta tale premiered in Ôsaka in 3/1817 at the Kado Theater and one of its roles was that of Isogai Tôsuke, so perhaps this earlier play was a forerunner of Keisei ishikawa zome. The uncertainty remains, however, and there may be little or no connection between the tales.
Although we are unfamiliar with the plot of Keisei ishikawa zome, the role of Ishikawa Goemon is included (see Hirosada HSD59). This anti-hero 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 (1537-1598) 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 reality, 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, and still popular today.
The title Chûkô fukushûden (Tales of revenge, loyalty, and filial piety: 忠孝復讐傳) is one of several similar examples that Hirosada used on prints in the wake of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô Reforms: 天保改革), which banned the publication of actor prints from 6/1842 to 1/1847 in Osaka. These print or series labels amounted to bit of transparent camouflage — no one, including government censors, was fooled into thinking that these images were anything but actor prints; still, the gesture helped satisfy the letter of the law. Note, too, that the actor's name is not given on the print, a small price to pay to skirt penalties, as ukiyo-e patrons knew the physiognomies of the actors and were intimately familiar with current stage productions.
This is an excellent printing of Sadanobu's design with superb colors and wide margins intact.
References: WAS-6, no. 067 (inv no. 016-0993); HSH, no. 108; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, acc. #2011.148