|period:||End of Edo (ca. 1850)|
|designation:||NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu|
|measurements:||7.4cm x 6.8cm|
|mei:||Seiryôken Hagiya Katsuhira (kao) — 生涼軒萩谷勝平 (花押)|
Hagiya Katsuhira is one of the luminary craftsmen of the Mito school, and was born in 1804 as Terakado Yasuke to Terakado Yoju in Mito. His older brother Yosaburo was a kodogu maker by the art name of Katsufusa, who taught him in the beginning. He would go on to be adopted by Hagiya Jinbei and take on teaching from the main line Mito master Shinozaki Katsushige, and Oyama Motozane, the first two of which combine for three of the four characters of his name. This line through Katsushige originates with the peerless artisan Tsuchiya Yasuchika, and Katsuhira would be fifth in line from Yasuchika.
Through his life he became a preeminent artist and taught many students, the most famous of which would be the great master Unno Shomin as well as Namegawa Sadakatsu. Both of these students took the “katsu” (勝) character from Katsuhira though in Shomin's name we use the alternate (Chinese style) pronunciation “sho”. Katsuhira as well had two sons of his own, Katsuhiro and Katsuyasu. Katsuhiro went on to marry into and become the head craftsman of the Suzuki family, and Katsuyasu carried on the Hagira lineage
The artist who made this [referenced piece], Hagiya Katsuhira, was an outstanding talent representing the Mito school of goldsmiths at the end of the Shogunate Regime, turning to the Meiji era. His studio set forth Unno Shomin, Suzuki Shoyo, and so on. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu
In 1844 Katsuhira began working directly for the Mito clan (the third branch of the Tokugawa Gosanke, founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu's son Yorifusa and resident in Hitachi province). He took on the role of Goyo (御用), or official artisan for the Mito Tokugawa daimyo. Along with this position he may have been granted the same right as a samurai to wear a katana and been included amongst the daimyo's family for official purposes.
Katsuhira signed his work with the go or personal title of Seiroken (生涼軒) and lived to the age of 83 (dying in 1886, though some references state 1876). His work today can be found in the finest museums throughout the world such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Fourteen of his works have passed the high threshold of Juyo Tosogu with the NBTHK.
The photo says most of what I would otherwise put into words for this wonderful artwork by Hagiya Katsuhira. He has combined materials here, mixing soft metal and iron for great effect and bears his full signature of Seiryôken Hagiya Katsuhira with his monogram.
Katsuhira worked both in iron and in soft metals, and followed the general tradition of machibori artists. These artists, taking their signal from Somin, broke free of the rigid traditional rules handed down for tosogu construction which had generally forced artwork to predominantly follow iron or soft metal, and allowed very little mixing of the two. In this case he has made a silver and gold dragon which the clouds carved into an iron ground on both sides of this tsuba. Gold dragons are frequently seen in Japanese tosogu art, but silver dragons are quite rare. The deep carving and tastefully seamless mix of materials allows this piece to express his complete mastery of both forms. The way this dragon is set below the surface on the back and rises above the clouds on the front makes it a particularly dynamic work in my eyes. In Japanese art, the dragon is a symbol of power and is in keeping with the kind of work that would satisfy a daimyo.
The NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon papers are dated Heisei 24 (2012) and this tsuba came from Japan, and has not made the rounds of collectors as can be seen from the date. It hasn't been papered long enough for many tries to be available either at Juyo. Due to the level of the work and the craftsman, I think this tsuba should be submitted to Juyo in the future.
Regardless of the papers, this tsuba would be a bonus to any collection of swords or tosogu. It comes in a custom made box.
If you find that one Katsuhira dragon is not enough to quench your thirst, Tetsugendo has a gorgeous issaku koshirae complete with Kencho wakizashi that is also suitable for a daimyo.
Many years ago while hunting for swords I stumbled into a collection of tsuba in an antiques shop in Montreal. From there I found the owner, and she had another set of tsuba left to her by her husband, one of which was a fine tiger wakizashi tsuba. This tsuba bore the signature of Katsuhira, but my friends at the time thought it was probably not legitimate and I sold it with this information. The buyer later found there was a matching katana tsuba (which sold for six times the price I sold mine for!) that had passed through a European auction and, failing to find that katana tsuba, asked Ford Hallam to remake it by analyzing photos and the existing wakizashi tsuba.
This process was documented and makes a beautiful two part video, which both shows off Ford's artistry, and the care and intensive work involved in making these beautiful sculptures. Whether you are collecting or are a buyer or not, if you appreciate fine art, you will enjoy this video.