The Osaka-based artist signing as "Toyohiro" (豊廣) in the 1850s-60s was previously unknown to us and appears to be unrecorded in the standard literature. Currently, we know of only two works by him — the diptych on offer here, and a design for a surimono (privately distributed print) portraying the actors Onoe Tamizô II as Teraoka Heimon and Nakamura Tomijûrô as Okaru. The Osaka artist Toyohiro should not be confused with the Edo artist Utagawa Toyohiro (歌川豊廣 1773-1828) who used the art pseudonym "Ichiryûsai" (一柳齋) and was the teacher of famed landscape artist Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広廣重 1797-1858).
The performance has been linked to the Tenma Tenjin no Shibai, a shrine-ground theater in Osaka. Kabuki stagings on the grounds of shrine theaters are often poorly documented and pose great challenges in identifying plays and production dates. Such is the case with our Toyohiro diptych. Given the years in which Tamashichi and Nakasuke II used their respective stage names, the span of years for this performance should be between 1854 and 1860.
The play is likely to be Ane imôto date no ôkido (姉妹達大礎), which premiered in 1795. This jidai-sewamono (history and domestic drama: 時代世話物) was a Kamigata adaptation of the Edo-based puppet play Go taiheiki shiroishi banashi (Story of Shiraishi and the chronicles of peace: 碁太平記白石噺) of 1780. The Edo version was a mixture of two dramas, one based on a failed rebellion in 1651 led by Yui Shôsetsu (1605-51) against the ten-year-old shogun Ietsuna, and the other a vendetta in 1723 carried out by two sisters. Onobu and her sibling, the courtesan Miyagino of the Daikokuya in Shin Yoshiwara, vow to avenge their father's murder by slaying a village magistrate named Daishichi Shiga, whose villainy also caused their mother to die from grief. The brothel proprietor, Sôroku, urges them to learn martial arts from Uji Jôsetsu (the theatrical stand-in for Yui Shôsetsu). Onobu studies fencing and changes her name to Shinobu. Aided by Jôsetsu, the sisters exact their revenge.
Toyohiro has depicted the "Shin Yoshiwara Ageya" or brothel scene from Act VII. Shinobu's elder sister is now a famous keisei (lit., "castle-toppler," a courtesan: 傾城) named Miyagino. She works at the Daikokuya (changed in the Osaka play Ane no hana to the Daifukuya), an ageya (house of assignation: 揚屋) owned by Sôroku to whom she sold herself eight years before. A new maid named Shinobu arrives looking for her missing older sister. After questioning her, Miyagino reveals that they are sisters, proving it by revealing an omamori (amulet or charm bag: 御守) identical to the one that Shinobu carries. Their joy at reunion, however, is cut short when Shinobu reports that their father has been killed by a malicious local magistrate (Shiga Daishichi in the Edo play). Sadly, their sick mother has died of grief. Miyagino pledges her support in seeking revenge and killing the magistrate. The two sisters declare that they will be as faithful to their vendetta as were the famous Soga brothers. When the two sisters attempt to run away from the ageya, Sôroku appears, having overheard the sad tale. Miyagino tries to attack him, but Sôroku easily disarms her and then urges the two sisters to train themselves in swordsmanship. He advises Miyagino to find her betrothed (the rônin or masterless samurai Kanai Tanigorô in the Edo play) and ask for his support to aid in their revenge.
This extremely rare design (we have found no other impressions) is a jôzuri-e (deluxe-edition print: 上摺絵) with a heavy application of brass pigment on the byôbu (painted floor screen: 屏風) as well as throughout Miyagino's robes.
NKE, pp. 135-136