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Mokume Tsuba by Myōchin Munesuke

Pleased to offer this exceptionally well made iron mokume tsuba signed and dated by Myōchin Munesuke, the 24th mainline master of the most prestigious school of armorers in Japan.  The maru-gata tsuba is very thick and heavy for its size.  The forging pattern is robust and conspicuous, although very little (if any) etching has been applied.  The mokume grain does not visually dominate the piece, and the patina is even and rich.  The grain is visible because of the variance in metal composition between the folds, not through chemical accentuation - it is a testament to the forging skills of Munesuke. On each side, several mokume islands are surrounded by gently undulating fold lines, giving the impression of raked zen gardens. The fold lines do not continue through the rounded rim, manifesting as linear irregularities - the rim is smooth and gently rounded.  This is not a simple folded iron guard, it is very much an art piece - well thought-out, aesthetically balanced.

Myōchin Munesuke (1641 - 1735?) was the 24th mainline Myōchin master, and is considered the foremost Myōchin armorer during the Edo periodMunesuke has a very long and prolific working period (~1680 - 1730), and is known by two art names: Shikibu and Ōsumi no Kami.   Late in life, he started listing his working age on pieces, and examples are known from his 76th - 82nd years.

This tsuba is signed with an unusual phrase: Shinto Gotetsu-Ren (神道五鉄練). It seems surficially to be a comment about quality of forging, perhaps something like '5 times folded iron'. However, research by Markus Sesko, has proposed a more supportable explanation of this phrase. Sesko found that the phrase may refer to the use of iron from recycled Buddhist iron begging bowls  (gotetsu-bachi). Thus a more suitable meaning for this phrase is something like 'forged from old begging bowls'.

Measurements: 7.6cm x 7.5cm x 0.55cm

Edo Period (江戸時代), 1717


Translation of signature follows:

Myōchin Ōsumi [no] Kami Munesuke (明珍大隅守宗介) 

Shinto Gotetsu-Ren (神道五鉄練)

Gyōnen Nanajuroku zai (行年七十六才)  At the age of 76, or Kyōhō 2 (1717)


For Munesuke's works, refer to: Japanese Armor: and Illustrated Guide to the work of Myochin and Saotome Families from the 15th - 20th Century, Anderson L.J. 1968.

Shin Kacchushi Meikan. Sasama. Y. 2000.



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