Ichinomiya Nagatsune KozukaIchinomiya Nagatsune

periodMid Edo (ca. 1770)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Kozuka
mei長常「花押」— Nagatsune (kao)
dimensions9.7 cm x 1.4 cm
price$14,300 -new-

What Somin is in the East, Nagatsune is in the West. Traditional Japanese saying

Ichinomiya Nagatsune is one of the all-time greats in the manufacture of sword fittings. His name has been handed down with renown as one of the three great masters of Kyoto, and he was a peer in time, skill and style to Yokoya Somin. Somin's development of katakiri-bori was paralleled by Nagatsune who advanced the art form and applied various embellishments of colored metals to what would otherwise be monochrome katakiri-bori designs. For this use of a variety of metals he is quite famous, and we need to remember that at his time this was pioneering work that was breaking free from the traditional and dominant styles of the Goto school which catered to the taste of the daimyo.

His favorite style was katakiribori with gold, silver, and copper. In particular, his katakiribori with a bright color hirazogan technique is different from Somin’s katakiribori work, and this is Nagatsune’s original style [i.e. Nagatsune invented it]. Iida Toshihisa, NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Nagatsune was born to the civilian name Kashiwaya Chuhachi, and his father was a sake brewer. His training began with simple metal gilding under a silversmith named Nagayoshi. After this, he advanced to study painting and tosogu manufacture. His lineage traces back through his various teachers to the Goto main line, connecting at Goto Kojo.

In 1719, in Kyoto,was born one of the finest chasers of Japanese metal-work, Nagatsune, who was the founder of the Ichinomiya School. At first apprenticed to a metal gilder, he later became a pupil of Takanaga (Yasui) and Furukawa Yoshinaga. His early work is signed Setsuzan. Not only was he a very clever tsuba maker and producer of the smaller sword-fittings, but he also was a painter, having studied under Maruyama Okyo and Ishida Yutei. He evidently did not expend all of his skill in glyptic art on sword-mounts, for G. Jacoby, H. Joly, and S. Hara all mention a cover which he made for a brazier (shuro) sent by the daimyo of Tsuchima to the king of Korea, who in turn offered it to K‘ien-lung, the Chinese emperor. Helen Gunsaulus, Japanese Sword Mounts in the Collections of Field Museum

Ichinomiya Nagatsune Kozuka Box

Though Ms. Gunsaulus put his place of birth in Kyoto, it rather seems to be Suruga in Echizen province and 1721 rather than 1719. When he began his career in fittings manufacture he used the name Setsuzan and later changed to Nagatsune. There are 34 Juyo examples of his work today, and three of those have this early signature. The Kinko Meikan ranks him at Meiko, which is the second from topmost ranking.

Nagatsune received two titles in his life, first was Echizen no Daijo around his 50th year of life (ca. 1771). This was subsequently upgraded to Echizen no Kami though when the second was granted is not clear and this particular bit of information is hard to verify as he was still signing with Daijo a year before he died. For fittings makers this is very unusual to receive such titles, and is typically something associated with sword makers.

It is an open question as to why sources report that he received No Kami but we don't see that on any works and he was using no Daijo on works of his last life. With many things with him, he breaks rules and works off of a sense of humor. So we can never discount his reasons for choosing to sign his lower title than what he apparently received.

He used various materials but in particular he was a master of shibuichi, which takes its name from the ratio of silver to copper (one in four). Shibuichi can be made with a fairly wide range in this ratio, and when formed well and patinated reveals a gorgeous crystalline structure which gives the base a beauty that is very different from the dark black of good shakudo.

The renowned collector Mitsumura Toshimo greatly respected Nagatsune and accumulated over 30 works by this maker. They are otherwise rarely seen and highly sought after.

Nagatsune's Charming Animals
Nagatsune's Charming Animals

[Nagatsune] learned the art of sketching from Ishida Yotei who was a student of the famous Maruyama Okyo, and his outstanding talent is demonstrated in his paintings and sketchbooks he left. As described in the dictionary of Japanese painters published in 1927, he amused the public by sketching bamboo shoot, horsetail, snail, frog, etc. Later when he became more skilful in drawing, he begun to depict dragon, lion, and people in his uniquely clever ways. His depiction of people was particularly excellent of movement, and his best favorite was small animals.

Nagatsune's specialty technique-wise was takabori-iroe to begin with; he also combined low relief (usunikubori) and iroe and/or zogan, or katakiribori, which he was really good at, and successfully applied a kind of brush painting technique to produce a variety of darkness of ink to the metal surface by means of carving. It should be noted in this connection that katakiribori was innovated by Yokoya Somin who was a most outstanding master artisan in the middle of the Edo period. The innovator used the new technique all by itself, whereas Nagatsune combined it with flat inlay using gold, silver, and shakudo to add more ornamental elements to his work. Kashima Susumu, Token Bijutsu

At the beginning of his creative life, Nagatsune signed with the mei Setsuzan (雪山). After this when he switched to Nagatsune, he seems to have signed using block script first. Over time if we look at examples we can see an evolution where he begins signing partially in grass script (just the tsune character at first), then both characters of his name, and then in what seems to be the final example of his life he signed the entire thing in more flowing characters. I can't find any examples of the block script that don't include Echizen no Daijo. Nagatsune seems to have varied his signature a lot over time, and it's not absolutely clear if he stuck to block or grass script as a rule for certain periods. There are dated grass script mei from the very end of his life and a couple years before that, but also block script that comes between them. And the name change from Setsuzan to Nagatsune remains an open question. As some Setsuzan works show his fully developed character and skill, it may be that the reception of the title corresponds to his name change. Some books have it that the niji partial grass script forms of the first type are earlier work than the block script. We do know though that he mixed up his signatures after this point from the dated signatures.

Nagatsune Mei Variations
Nagatsune Mei Variations

Nagatsune left behind a sketchbook with a vast array of ideas and designs, to which he would annotate how he intended to sign a piece along with the various materials and inlays that would be required. The last great master and possibly the best of them all was Kano Natsuo was in the possession of this sketchbook, and he derived much of his inspiration from Nagatsune and copied his katakiri-bori technique and designs. The sketchbook has luckily survived and copies are available for purchase today.

It can be summarized that Natsuo first learned from earlier masterful works as well as from works of more recent masters of various schools such as Goto, Yokoya and Nara. He also studied the works of Kono Haruaki, Goto Ichijo, and Toryusai Kiyotoshi, and mastered the best of different workmanships to establish his own style and school. It seems obvious that Natsuo's utmost respect was gained by Ichinomiya Nagatsune because he was found to have owned the basic design sketch book drawn by Nagatsune. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

In particular, [Natsuo] admired Nagatsune’s work, and collected his sketch books, and he supposedly studied these all of the time. This kozuka uses Nagatsune’s special style which has a one quarter polished surface or ji, and has katakiri-bori, and he used all kinds of colors with a gold hirazogan (high inlay) technique. This shows Nagatsune’s elegant style, and has Natsuo’s famed empty spaces, and has simple sharp curves, and this shows poetic and fantasy images. Iida Toshihisa, NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Nagatsune died in 1786 at the age of 66, leaving behind fantastic works, many of which display a whimsical sense of humor on top of his pioneering style and great skill.

Tokubetsu Hozon Ichinomiya Nagatsune Kozuka
Ichinomiya Nagatsune Kozuka Sketchbook Page 052Ichinomiya Nagatsune Kozuka Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Kozuka

During my long coronavirus refugee stay in Tokyo, I found some nice items and this was one of them. This is a group of cranes in his most typical style of katakiribori and soft metal inlays on shibuichi. This work is also found in the Nagatsune sketchbook. Often times between sketch and implementation he tended to tweak the design a bit as he would revise and play with his ideas over time as can be seen throughout the sketchbook.

Bearing in mind the many signatures of Nagatsune, it is not clear if they come in patterns or else he invented them at one time and used them when he felt they best went with the work. In this case he signed in nijimei with grass script characters and it is I think probably one of the later additions to his signatures.

This piece has a three dimensional figure that wraps around on both sides of the kozuka, which was one of the interesting techniques of Nagatsune. The inlaid metals are gold, silver, shakudo and copper, over which he cut with his perfect katakiribori technique. As mentioned above, this is his favorite and most typical style.

Nagatsune's cleverness can be seen in the design of this kozuka as seven cranes are presented in different ways. Starting top to bottom: (1) gold crown, shakudo throat, (2) gold crown, silver back, shakudo throat, (3) gold crown and base material eyes, (4) gold bill, (5) gold crown, (6) shakudo tail, (7) copper crown, shakudo bill, shakudo tail.

This piece was found not so long ago as the paper is dated Heisei 27 (2015) and it went into its box at that time. As the kozuka has been mounted there are some minor age marks on the front, but nothing significant or that will impact its enjoyment. As such it is ranked Tokubetsu Hozon for its quality and state of preservation.

Nagatsune is one of the must-have master craftsmen for tosogu collectors. He is part of the main story of this craft. There is some damage to the patina on the back side of this kozuka, something seems to have been attached there long ago and left a discoloration. This can be fixed by someone like Ford Hallam I believe or trained tosogu craftsmen in Japan.

It comes in a custom fit box and would be a happy addition to any collection.