Wood, lacquer, ray skin (samé), thread, copper-gold alloy (shakudō), brass, iron
L. 26 1/8 in. (66.4 cm)
Purchase, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Gift of Howard Mansfield, by exchange, 2011
Not on view
A European sword is seen as a unified whole consisting of hilt, blade, and scabbard; with the artistic emphasis usually being on the hilt. By contrast, Japanese swords are appreciated for the beauty of their individual components. These consist of the blade, mountings (the hilt and scabbard), and fittings (the small, removable metal elements attached to the hilt and scabbard). Japanese blades are equally renowned for their effectiveness and aesthetic qualities; the mountings are valued as elegant lacquerwork; and the fittings as art metalwork in miniature.
This superb set of mountings for a short sword, or wakizashi, was made by Shibata Zeshin, one of the most versatile artists of the Edo period and Meiji era, who was highly regarded both as a lacquer specialist and as a painter. His large output includes many types of lacquer boxes, inrō, bowls, cups, trays, painted silk scrolls, sliding panels and screens, and an innovative type of lacquer painting (urushi-e). Zeshin created only about one dozen sword mountings, of which this is among the best. The grainy wood surface of the scabbard is a masterly trompe l'oeil effect achieved completely in lacquer, as are the simulated silk wrappings of the hilt.
Signature: Signed on the flat top of the hilt collar (fuchi) on the left side: Tsuchi ya masa yoshi [yasu chika (artist's seal)]; and dated on the right side: Kaei ni minotori kisaragi kore-o tsukuru (made in February 1849); The scabbard is signed on the lower edge near the center with two characters of the lacquer artist's name: Ze Shin; below the knife pocket there is also the lacquer artist's painted seal.
Inscription: Inscribed on the scabbard: 是真 (Zeshin); on the hilt collar: 嘉永二己酉如月造焉 / 土屋雅良 (Kaei ni tsuchinoto-tori kisaragi tsukuru / Tsuchiya Masayoshi) (Made in the second year of Kaei , tsuchinoto-rooster, second month / Tsuchiya Masayoshi); on the hilt collar, stamp seal: 昌親 (Masachika).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arms and Armor: Notable Acquisitions 2003–2014," November 11, 2014–December 6, 2015.