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Tsuba (sword guard) with design of three pawlownia crests and vines

Kinai School

Artwork Details

Tsuba (sword guard) with design of three pawlownia crests and vines
circa 1750
Kinai School
iron, gold and shakudô (copper-gold alloy)
3 1/8 in. x 3 1/8 in. x 3/16 in. ( 8 cm x 8 cm x 0.5 cm )
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert T. Weston

On Display


Tsuba are intended to protect the user’s hand, first by shielding it against a blow from the opponent’s blade, and second by preventing it from slipping onto the razor-sharp edge of the weapon being wielded. Until the early seventeenth century, simply designed iron tsuba were dominant, as seen in the example here bearing a mushroom motif. When the Tokugawa regime required samurai warlords to travel regularly to the capital, Edo, and mandated that their wives and children reside there, considerations of urban fashion became more influential than battlefield practicalities in samurai attire and accessories. The tsuba became more an object of display than a functional item—a trend that further intensified when affluent merchants were permitted to carry swords in public and also began to demand attractive tsuba.
As is well represented by this collection, there was great artistic creativity at play in tsuba-making during the Edo period. The newly developed shakudô (a copper–gold alloy of a lustrous purple–black color) was used to create relief designs. Openwork chiseling was a versatile method for creating dramatic representations of family crests or light, airy, and elegant plant motifs.
(Label for UMMA Japanese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject Matter:

Tsuba (sword guard) is inserted between a sword handle and blade to protect hands from sharp blades. The center hole is where the sword is placed. The smaller holes are to insert kozuka (left), an ornamental stick, and kougai (right), a spatula-like stick which is said to be used for itching hair underneath hats or helmets. This particlar tsuba has three crests of "Gosangiri" (pawlownia with three-five-three flower petals), which perhaps was the family crest of the owner of the original sword.

Physical Description:

This small, flat metal piece has a circular shape and an openwork design. It has a triangular shaped sword hole in the center, flanked by two other holes, which are filled with shakudô (copper-gold alloy). The sword hole is mended with gold. Three crests, consisting of pawlownia leaves and flowers, are interconnected with vines. There are some abrasions on the center oval shape around the sword hole. The surface is slightly textured by minute stippling. The outer rim is slightly elevated from the inner design. This openwork carving technique is called "marubori" (round carving).

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