Mei (signed): Nobuie (futoji mei – 2° generation)

Size: 8,2 cm x 8,7 cm
Thickness at rim: 0,4 cm

Period: End of Muromachi/Azuchi Momoyama

N.B.T.H.K. Tokubetsu Hozon Tōsōgu Certification
In Kiri box

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Tsuba with arabesque engravings. Lobed shape, iron, hammer-blow finish, fine hairline carvings.

Nobuie tsuba possess the highest form of the true aesthetic art. On close inspection one will see the detail of the hammer work and the quality of the forging rarely to be seen in any other tsuba.

Nobuie (信家) was active from around Eiroku (永禄, 1558-1570) to Tenshō (天正, 1573-1592); he was invited to Kiyosu (清洲) in Owari province (present Aichi Prefecture) by Oda Nobunaga. Probably he moved there from Kyōto or Mino.

His son or disciple, the second head Nobuie, also engaged in producing sword guards at Kiyosu at first. Though, later, he served Fukushima Masanori, and moved to Aki Province (present Hiroshima Prefecture) accompanied with his master’s relocation. He must have been living there until the Genna era (元和, 1615-1624).

The Sengoku period was also a great stimulus for the changes in Buddhism and the shift towards Zen and aestheticization. In that age of struggle, when warriors often risked death and witnessed the rise and fall of their friends and foes, constant awareness of and preparation for death were necessary and the impermanence of human life and achievement was omnipresent. Tsuba were of course not excluded from these changes. Representative are the great masters Nobuie (信家) and Kaneie (金家), who was the first to introduce real picturesque motifs for tsuba and he, first time ever, introduced sketches of natural objects.

By the time of Nobuie, more attention was paid to a “perfected imperfection” in the sense of wabi and sabi, i.e. a work which looks as if created with no ulterior motives and no preconceptions by nature but by the use of perfected craftsmanship.

Nobuie made both iron plate tsuba and iron openworked tsuba. These pieces of work are all forged very well, and the patterns on surfaces made naturally during production are very tasteful. He adopted a lot of kinds of designs as motifs on tsuba such as honeycomb, Matsu leaf, waterwheel, bow, Kanji phrases and Christian symbolism.

The Catholic rosary is generally explained as equivalent to the Japanese rosary “nenju” (jap. rozario), but this implement was the called “contas”, which is a Portuguese term. The rosary, or rosario in Portuguese, was once a flower crown used by Catholics worshipping the Virgin Mary. This headdress was made of a kind of single-petaled rose called “rosarugosa”, bound to a crown, and therefore the tsuba shows a sukashi design in the form of “rosary flowers”.

We know through the rubbings of Nobuie tsuba (seen in Nobuie Tsuba Shū, 1926) that there are several distinct styles of signatures to be found on the many Nobuie tsuba. These various styles were classified at great length by Akiyama. The individual shape of the characters as the way of chiseling is completely different to the former group signatures, and because there is no transitional signature found, we can assume that this does not go back to changes within the artistic period of a craftsman, but rather that signatures of the former group and those of the latter group indicate a different artist.

Though it could seem that several men with the same name might have made Nobuie tsuba, it can be stated that these various signatures should be grouped into two styles, thus giving us only two Nobuie tsuba, a first and second generation.

It is not difficult to distinguish between them. The first generation may be termed Gamei (elegant signature), this being the style called “hanare” by Akiyama. This style is gentle, slight, and tasteful. It shows the quiet nobility of the subjects used in his decorations. The latter can be summarized as variations with a curved version of the radical (宀) or a leftward orientation of the radical (豕), and a close or a little spaced arrangement of the two characters to each other. Akiyama called the second generation “futoji-mei”, “katchū-mei”, “sakei-mei” and “sumari-mei”, all these are the signatures of this one generation. This style of signature may be called ‘Chikara-mei’ (mighty signature). It shows the strong, bold style seen in the thick plate and forceful carving.