Monday, May 3, 2010

What is art....Japanese Sword Guards

The age of the Samurai ended formally in 1868, but the code of the Samurai, Bushido, and the spirit of that path has never really left for some Japanese.  During that time the art of sword-making and all the attendant accessories was elevated to an astonishing level. Some would claim that it was never equalled in any other culture, but I suggest that they visit some museums and look at the swords and sword fittings that came out of Europe, especially Toledo in Spain, during the centuries in which the sword was the primary weapon of that culture. 

Where the Japanese craftsmen excelled in terms of sheer creativity was in the making of Tsuba, the more or less circular guards that were fitted onto the blade to keep the users hand back on the handle and to fend off possible blows by the opponent's blade.  Seen here are two examples that give you just the merest hint of what they were capable of.

I once saw a photo of a Tsuba that was in a Sotheby's auction catalog.  It was called, "The Foxes' Wedding", and the base metal was a dark brown patinated copper. Along one side, arranged in a descending curve was a series of inlays.  They were done in Shakudo, which is a copper and gold alloy that patinates to a rich dark purple-black, and it was a procession of little animals, all dressed in Samurai armor and kimono, making their way through the dark....holding little lanterns aloft.  The lanterns were tiny 24kt gold beads. 

I was so entranced by this that I studied it at some length.  The scope of the creator's imagination, the attention to detail and the perfection of craftsmanship were all simply astonishing to me. If you seek out images of Tsuba, using, of course, your ol' buddy, Google, you will find an almost endless collection of possibilities, and I believe you will ultimately agree with my own sense that this is yet one more form of truly FINE ART.

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