Keisei Ama no hagoromo (A courtesan and the heavenly feather robe: 契情天羽衣) appears to be a kabuki adaptation or partial appropriation of th drama Hagoromo (The feather mantle: 羽衣), among the most-performed works of the Japanese Nô theater. The kabuki version was written in 1753 by Namiki Shôzô I (一代目並木正三), 1730–1773, a prolific and innovative Japanese playwright who produced roughly 100 works for bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽) and kabuki. He also perfected the mawaributai (revolving stage: 回り舞台) in 1758 and popularized the use of seriage ("lifting trap" or trapdoors: セリ上げ). Moreover, Shôzô I pioneered the samisen-tayû combination (chobo, samisen player accompanying the chanter) adapted from the puppet theater for kabuki. The eighth (intercalary) month 1862 production of this kabuki play must have been very popular, as Yoshitaki produced at least nine designs for the production, and various prints were also commissioned from other artists (see, for example, MUH02).
The Nô drama features a tennin (an aerial spirit or celestial dancer: 天人) who witnesses Hakuryû, a fisherman, take her feather robe hanging from a tree in a pine grove on Miho Beach. She is desperate to retrieve her garment, as she cannot return to heaven without it. At first the fisherman refuses, but finally relents if she will show him her dance. She accepts, and Hakuryû is delighted by what he sees. In the finale, the tennin slowly disappears in mist. In some kabuki productions of this scene, the tennin flies off with the aid of chûnori ("middle riding": 中乗り), a theatrical term for “flying” with the aid of a wire harnessed to a metal fitting in the actor’s costume.
The actors are shown on the hanamichi (lit., "flower path": 花道), the raised passageway extending from the kabuki stage into the audience. Some of the faces in the audience appear realistic and individuated, unlike the usual stylized or idealized faces encountered in ukiyo-e. This suggests, perhaps, that Yoshitaki had some friends, acquaintances, or real-life audience members in mind while drawing certain nigao ("likenesses: 似顔).
We have found, so far, only one other impression in the standard literature, this being the copy in the Kansai University collection (see KAN reference below). That copy is noticeably trimmed along the vertical adjoining edges of the sheets, whereas our impression is virtually untrimmed.
This is a fine deluxe impression with kirazuri (mica printing; 雲母摺) and furikake ("sprinkling" or application of powdered metallics: 振掛). Ukiyo-e prints depicting the hanamichi and audience are rare in kamigata-e, thus this design by Yoshitaki is especially appealing. It is also from early in his career, before the introduction of aniline dyes.
References: KAN, no. 79; NKE, pp. 63 and 142