signed oju Yoshitoshi ga, dated Meiji kyunen, hachigatsu, sanjuka (Meiji 9 , August 30), with publisher's address cartouche of Yorozuya Magobei (of Kineido) followed by artist's address, and priced in a small cartouche just to the right of the signature cartouche, san mai roku sen (three for six sen)
oban tate-e triptych 14 1/8 by 28 1/4 in., 35.9 by 71.8 cm
From right to left are the actors Bando Hikosaburo V (1832-1877) in the role of Hashiba Hideyoshi, Sawamura Tossho (Suketakaya Takasuke IV, 1838-1886) as Ishida Mitsunari, Ichikawa Sadanji (1842-1904) as Hyakusho Daisuke, and Ichikawa Danjuro IX (1838-1903) as the imprisoned Saito Kuranosuke, from the play Oto ni hibiku sennari hisago, staged at the Shintomi Theater in September 1876.
Much like Shakespearean depictions of English kings, heroes, and villains, this play would have portrayed the generals, soldiers, and peasants who shaped Japanese history at the turn of the 16th century. Hashiba Hideyoshi is the kabuki name of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536 or 1537-1598), a daimyo who remained loyal to Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) after Nobunaga was assassinated by Akechi Mitsuhide at Honno-ji Temple. Hideyoshi would chase the traitorous Mitsuhide to Yamazaki, where he scored a decisive victory. Pictured alongside Hideyoshi is his retainer Ishida Mitsunari (1559-1600), who Hideyoshi would later make a magistrate following the nation's unification in 1590.
The figure on the left bound by rope is daimyo Saito Kuranosuke (1534-1582), a retainer of Mitsuhide who fled the Battle of Yamazaki and was captured and later executed at Katada Bay, which lies on the western shores of Lake Biwa. He is the protagonist of the kabuki play Escaping to Katada (Katada ochi) in his own right, but in this story he was likely a secondary character whose capture was a major episode in Hideyoshi's path towards his consolidation of power. Yoshitoshi makes clear the relative statuses of these two warriors: Hideyoshi's ornate and colorful robes stand in stark opposition to the simple garbs worn by the captured Kuranosuke.
Yoshitoshi illustrated this ensemble of actors in roles from this play in the actor portrait series Seven Brilliant Stars (Komei shichi yosei), which similarly featured Hikosaburo V as Hideyoshi and Danjuro IX as Kuranosuke. Tossho and Sadanji are featured in that series as well, but as both played multiple parts in the play, they are shown in different roles. While in the portrait series each actor is depicted in the costume of their role, here they are assembled together in a specific scene.
Highlights of Japanese Printmaking: Part Five - Yoshitoshi, Scholten Japanese Art, New York, 2017, cat. no. 53
Andreas Marks, Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, pp. 22-26 (re: print pricing)