Carved out of copper alloy with details highlighted in gold.
95 x 14.5 mm
Shakudō, silver, gold.
Japan, Edo period
From a Dutch private collection
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A Japanese kozuka, the hilt of a small by-knife carried in the scabbard of the Japanese sword.
It is executed in shakudō (赤銅), a prized alloy of copper and gold that was artificially patinated to a "raven black" color, resembling lacquer work. The top surface features nanako (魚子), literally "fish-roe" is a pattern of small dots stamped in the metal with a special stamp that gives the impression of fabric.
On top of the nanako are finely chiseled designs of two fighting roosters and an onlooking hen, executed in gold, silver and shakudō. The onlooking hen illustrates that the scene regards a fight in the wild, instead of a human-instigated cockfight. The work is very nicely detailed.
When looking at high-resolution photos it is sometimes easy to forget just how fine the work is.
Here is is depicted in my hand for reference.
Golden design elements on a shakudō nanako background was popularized on sword fittings by the famous Gotō school, founded in the 15th century by Gotō Yūjō (後藤 祐乗) who lived from 1440-1512. The style became somewhat of the "black tie" for samurai, the style worn on the most formal occasions.
The reverse is completely plated in gold and with controlled diagonal scratches resembling falling rain. The piece is unsigned.
The chicken, pronounced niwatori was a popular motif on samurai sword fittings because it was a pun for "obtaining a garden", pronounced niwa o toru. It referred to coming into possession of a feudal fief, property rights granted by a lord.
The rooster was revered for his alertness and fighting spirit.
Some minor wear and tear. As depicted.
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Very delicate work with carved guardian lions.
Unusual tsuba with foreign figures and Chinese auspicious symbols.
Pierced and chiseled showing an 18th century European vessel.
Very finely carved with designs reminiscent of export wares.
Made in Canton, China, for the Japanese market.