nanban-tsuba #1 | Mandarin Mansion

nanban-tsuba #1

Height & width: 75 x 72mm
Thickness: 6mm
Weight: 107 grams

Origin: Possibly Japanese-made, heavily inspired by Chinese design.
Materials: Iron, gold, copper.
Dating: Probably late 18th to 19th century.
Use: Has been mounted.

A near round tsuba with beaded rim depicting two dragons in vegetal scrollwork. The dragons would normally be reaching for a (flaming) pearl, but on this guard instead they reach for something that much resembles a globus cruciger or "cross-bearing orb", signifying the ruling of Christ, represented by the cross, over the world, the orb. There are two other crosses without orb in the scrollwork. There is a little hole inside the orb, and in the orb is a small metal ball, cut loose completely from its surroundings.

The dragons have split tails, identifying them as the water dwelling chilong or hornless dragon, a benevolent Chinese mythical creature. Dragons, crosses, orb, and some of the tendrils are damascened with gold leaf over incredibly fine crosshatching.

It is probably made in Japan in the 19th century, and it follows a by then rather formalized form. They are based on purely Chinese "Canton tsuba", a type of Sino-Tibetan sword guard popular in China in the 17th and early 18th centuries. These were probably made in Canton but most likely in Beijing, but because all trade went through Canton since 1757 they were probably purchased there and hence associated with that place instead.

It comes with a hand-made wooden box for storage or display.

There is a nearly identical, but cruder made tsuba in the Victoria & Albert Museum, accession number m.194-1931.

An archetypical example of a Japanese-made nanban tsuba of later formalized form, representing an interesting blend between Chinese and Japanese function, craftsmanship and aesthetics.


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