A Christian Nanban tsuba
Over centuries, many sailors, merchants and colonial dignitaries crossed the oceans to trade with Asian countries. The cross-cultural influence is an interesting part of this period of war and trade. The word ‘Nanban’ or also spelled ‘Namban’ can be literary translated as: ‘Western Barbarian’, a term the Japanese locally used when they spoke of traders from Europe and other continents. The tsuba (sword guards) are a typical fitting of the Japanese sword. Since the trade began, an influence of different cultures and religion were mangled with the Japanese examples. Besides manufacturing in their own country, sword guards were often made in Tonkin, Canton and even in Beijing and Sri-lanka.
Japan – Edo period, late 18th century
Materials: Iron, Gold
This fine sword guard features typical Chinese design, but the ‘kozuka hitsu-ana‘ and the ‘kogai hitsu-ana‘ tell us that this example was likely made in Japan and for Japanese use.
Due to the fact that Christianity was officially prohibited until 1873 some people secretly showed their preference of religion in small details such as in ‘netsuke’ or sword guards. This tsuba is an example with a Christian orb on top and a cross on the left and right. This orb was placed instead of a flaming pearl which the two dragons usually chase in Chinese Buddhist origin. The openwork on this tsuba is of great detail. Some curls are crosshatched and gilded, all in typical Canton style, but likely made in Japan.
The rim of this tsuba has a ribbed structure and 99% of the gilding is still remained untouched.
Condition: Excellent condition, due to its age slight traces of rust on the inner parts, but not active. The gold damascening is still in very good condition and shows very slight traces of use.
Outlines: 7.1 x 7.5cm
Comparable examples: A similar tsuba, but of minor quality and condition, is held in the Victoria & Albert Museum. (accession number m.194-193)
Copyright Antiques by the Sea – 2020
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