A Rare and Unusual Namban Set of Fittings

Off the coast of Nagasaki lies an island named Hirado. Until the early Edo period it had been a port of call for ships from all over Asia since the Nara period. It’s relevance as a port was magnified with the increased trade with Korea and China in the 14th and 15th centuries, and eventually the Dutch East India Company under the supervision of the Matsuura Clan in the early 17th century.

The Dutch and Portuguese stylistic influence on Japanese sword fittings of the were manifested through this trade and a style of work collectively known as “Namban” was popularized in Japan during this time. The European style was exotic and fashionable to the Japanese in many respects and influenced style of clothing to a lesser extent, and even Japanese armor can be seen to exhibit elements of the European style armor. The trade by Dutch and Portuguese enabled an exchange of both finished products and raw materials between Europe, Japan, China, India, and Southeast Asia. Iron was surprisingly one of the raw materials that some Japanese swordsmiths implemented enthusiastically, and finished sword blades were prominently inscribed as having been forged from “namban tetsu” or “foreign iron”. Japanese exports of paper were sought out by European artists and Rembrandt used them as he admired the color and texture over European papers. Porcelain was also a popular Japanese export to Europe and the examples of it were even depicted in paintings by Vermeer.

Sword fittings made in foreign style were also often imported, or even copied by some Japanese makers. The majority of imported works hold a style that more closely resembles Chinese aesthetic, with some occasionally sometimes blended with a European taste. However, the fitting shapes were set for the method of construction and use on Japanese swords. Rarely, one can find a guard such as a clamshell type from a European rapier that has been altered to accommodate mounting on a Japanese sword.

This set of tsuba, fuchi, and kashira are of a design that both accommodates a Japanese mounting, but also exhibits a Chinese design and aesthetic. Extensive piercing and carving in the Namban style in conjunction with the bulbous kashira, wide fuchi, and moko style tsuba express an exotic taste that would be testimony to the owner’s affluent trade associations and/or fashionable social esteem among his peers. This set is unique among peer works in it’s size and form. The base material is a copper alloy with gilt wash, that over time has worn from highlights to reveal a warm brown tone of patination.

It is accompanied by an NBTHK Hozon Tosogu paper certifying its authenticity and would be an excellent and extraordinary addition to any fittings collection.


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