Executed in "nanban style" openwork with chiseled and gold-encrusted peonies.
69 x 65 x 5 mm
Brass, enamel, gold
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The island of Hirado is situated west of Kyushu, its has a capital city bearing the same name. It was ruled for nearly 800 years by the Matsura daimyou family. The place served as a trade base with China since ancient times and, from 1550 to 1641, served as the main port of entry for foreign trade into Japan.
Following the Imjin war, a group of Korean potters were taken to the island, where they started to produce porcelain that became known as Hirado ware.
Another product made in Hirado was sword mounts bearing a signature "Kunishige". Because both the style of the signatures and the quality of the work varies a lot, but not the style, I believe this was more of a workshop or atelier than a single person. The work done here was often done in soft metal, mostly copper alloy, and with designs of Chinese style dragon chasing pearls.
A particularly fine example of the work signed with Hirado Kunishige. The copper alloy tsuba is carved with a fine chisel, showing a very steady and controlled hand. The decor consists of a dragon on the facing side and two on the reverse. They have well-defined bodies and facial features. The dragon's eyes are inlaid with gold.
Very unusual is the addition of clear green enamel in the negative space. It is one of only very few pieces by this workshop to have this finish, which seems to indicate it was only briefly experimented with. The Korean pottery tradition that was established on Hirado likely had something to do with it, as it is distinct from the more opaque enamel favored in China.
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