Ishiguro Masatsune Fuchigashira

Ishiguro Masatsune

periodLate Edo (ca. 1790)
designationNBTHK Hozon Tosogu Fuchigashira
mei東嶽子政常「花押」· Togakushi Masatsune (kao)

The Ishiguro school’s detailed representations of plants and animals are second to none and they are known for luxurious and gorgeous designs full of life and beauty. These ideas were planted by the school founder Masatsune, and then his students took them to the next level. The Ishiguro harmonized with the tastes of the time and their work mirrors contemporary paintings of natural scenes. These themes frequently represent birds and peaceful scenes of great beauty. Their primary material is gold on shakudo, but they took it to flamboyant and gorgeous styles which were distinct from the work of their ancestors in Yokoya.

Ishiguro Masatsune was born in 1760 and had the personal name of Jumyo (壽命 Long Life) taken at the age of 61. He was a student of Kato Naotsune first under whom he learned carving. His teacher’s teacher was the great student of Somin, Yanagawa Naomasa. Due to his prestigious talent, he was transferred up and studied under Naomasa. From each of his teachers he was given one character of his name, combining them to create Masatsune.

Though Masatsune was far above average in skill, he trained two extremely and equally talented masters in Masayoshi and Masaaki that would stand at the very pinnacle of Edo period tosogu craftsmanship. During their time the Ishiguro school became quite famous and featured many other highly skilled smiths, including two additional generations of Masatsune, Koretsune, Yoshitaka, Moriaki, Masaharu, Teruaki, Koreyoshi, Yoshitaka, Yoshitsugu, Masahiro, Masachika, and Teruaki. When Masatsune gave out characters of his name to those he taught, he used the Masa (政) character for his students and Tsune (常) for his blood relatives. So in this was we know that Koretsune is among the children of Masatsune.

Starting with his sons Moritsune (盛常) and Koretsune (足常), Masatsune trained a great number of outstanding masters, for example Masaaki (政明), Masayoshi (政美), Masahiro (政広), and Masachika (政近), which allowed him to strongly position his school within the many thriving schools that emerged in the late Edo period. When he died in Bunsei eleven (1828), at the age of 69, his eldest son Moritsune took over his name Masatsune and succeeded the following year (i.e. in Bunsei twelve), as the second generation of the Ishiguro School, NBTHK Ishiguro Exhibition

Shodai Masatsune had two sons, Koretsune who was the oldest, and the then Masamori. Masamori would later change his name to Moritsune which is probably due to the formalization of the use of Masatsune’s name characters. Masamori/Moritsune would then briefly become the nidai Masatsune.

Fuchi DetailFuchi Detail

Koretsune did not inherit the school which seems to also indicate an early death for him, likely before the Shodai Masatsune himself died. No birth and death dates are known for the 2nd generation Masatsune either. So it would seem unusual to have two generations of Masatsune working at the same time, and an alternate explanation for this is simply that Koretsune signed daimei for his father. Or as above, he may not have existed and is a transcription error in later works of the Shodai’s original name.

Ishiguro Masayoshi signed into his mei that he was the 3rd generation Ishiguro master on some pieces. The implication is that Koretsune, then Masatsune first generation, then Masatsune second generation all died in rapid succession. This left Masayoshi standing as the senior student and the inheritor of the school while the third generation Masatsune was too young to do so.

One of the direct students of the first generation Masatsune was Masahiro, who was given the responsibility of training the third generation Masatsune after the deaths of the first and second generation Masatsune. The third generation Masatsune originally had the name of Shigetsune and is the son of the second generation Masatsune. When Shigetsune was old enough he changed his name to Masatsune and took over the Ishiguro school from Masayoshi some time in the middle 1800s as its fourth master. He would work until the Meiji era.

Ishiguro Masatsune Fuchigashira Tiger

Ishiguro Masatsune

Masatsune lived between 1760 and 1828, and died at the age of 69. The second generation Masatsune took over the school, but this did not last long and is likely due to his early death.

It has been handed down that he was born in Horeki ten (1760), that he bore the first name Zenzo, which he changed later to Shusuke, and that he lived in the Kureha-cho neighborhood of Edo’s Nihonbashi district. The founder Masatsune initially studied engraving with Kato Naotsune (加藤直常) who was a master from the Yanagawa School which in turn was an offshoot of the Yokoya School, the great ancestor of the Edo machibori. But it is said that he was also allowed to study for a short time directly with the Yanagawa grand master Naomasa (柳川直政) after that.

Although Masatsune placed his main artistic focus on flowers and birds, he also applied many other motifs like animals or figures, but regardless of the motif all of his works display highly delicate carvings. NBTHK Ishiguro Exhibition

Masatsune is ranked at the top of the school by the Kinko Meikan at Meiko (which is higher than Masayoshi and Masaaki, which are otherwise said to be the two top in the Ishiguro school). This is the second highest ranking given out in this book. Masatsune works are a bit harder to find than Masayoshi as well. 14 times they passed Juyo but 3 times they went on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo which is a high percentage. Only 36 makers have passed Tokubetsu Juyo for fittings, and in that list 16 of them only one time. Masatsune ranks with Umetada Myoju with 3 having passed and only 9 makers have more than 3. Context is critical as Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo are harder for fittings than they are for swords.

In the Bakumatsu period, the school had many students and was very prosperous. When I talk about the Shodai’s work, I can imagine Masatsune’s passion for his carving and a strong wish to pave the way for his school’s future. The Ishiguro school’s power and technique of using continuous chisel strokes in their carvings are seen in birds’ threatening strong eyes, their beaks, their claws and dense elegant feathers. NBTHK Token Bijutsu Masterpieces

Ishiguro Masatsune - separate Juyo menuki
Ishiguro Masatsune - separate Juyo menuki

In practice is can be difficult to distinguish between the first and second generation Masatsune work, as there are few works of the second and the signatures seem to overlap. There is a possibility that the second generation was doing signatures for the first at the end of his life.

Masatsune laid all of the templates for the Ishiguro style, with peaceful scenes of birds and flowers, and flamboyant presentations in gold on deep black shakudo nanako of the highest quality. He also was proficient in shibuichi, and in iron, and works exist in all of these forms, as well as with subject matter other than birds.

Ishiguro Masatsune - Tokubetsu Juyo
Ishiguro Masatsune - Tokubetsu Juyo

Masatsune also used the concept of empty space, which we see in Japanese painting and in works of the Yokoya school. This would be handed down to his students as well. Empty space gives the subject matter breathing room and avoids overwhelming the viewer. It also gives a chance to appreciate the textures and materials in use in the tosogu, such as the nanako or ishime finishing that Masatsune used.

Edo Kinko Meifu - 1810
Edo Kinko Meifu - 1810
Kinko Tanki - 1839
Kinko Tanki - 1839

The Ishiguro school’s work dates from the latter half of the Edo period to the Bakumatsu period. They used primarily flowers and birds in their designs, and made good use of all kinds of colored metals. We could say they changed tosogu from being strictly for military use, and converted them into artistic objects, and in the history of kinko work, this was a major step. Their portrayal is not only that they directly draw a subject, but also that their compositions looked like a painting. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Masatsune’s style caught on like wildfire and we can see this in books written during the time of growth of the Ishiguro school.

Two particular references illustrate this most excellently, the Edo Kinko Meifu in 1810 and shows a relatively small school of one teacher and seven students, and then in 1839 the Kinko Tanki shows the school has expanded dramatically to 41 members. These are period references so they had access to the school directly like a newspaper report would in the current era, and as such can be considered accurate.

With [Masatsune’s] extraordinary skill he was able to give the Ishiguro school a strong position in the system of the Yokoya lineages. His harmonic balance between motif and shape of the piece was highly appreciated, as was his perfect nanako. Markus Sesko - Kinko Kodogu

Masatsune used the go (artist’s name) Togakushi (東嶽子), Jukokusai (寿谷斎), Ishigurosai (石黒斎), and Togakushi (東岳子). Note the second is not a repeat of the first, but uses a different middle character in place of 嶽. The first form of Togakushi was introduced by Masatsune while he was a student of Naotsune. He also used the second form from some time later in his life, as did Koretsune and the nidai Masatsune.

KashiraFuchi Detail

The set of tosogu which features a theme only of crashing waves is something he made late in life, and on this example he seems to have assembled several of his names. The various elements are signed: Ishiguro Masatsune; Sekkokusai Jumyo Masatsune; Ishiguro Masatsune; Togakushi (first form) Ishiguro Masayoshi; Togakushi (second form) Ishiguro Masatsune. This fact slipped past the documentation on the setsumei of the item. The NBTHK noted however that this scene of only waves is unique throughout the repertoire of Masatsune, and with the various signatures he’s added that date to previous stages of his development, it seems like a celebration of his life.

Waves Kanagu - Juyo Tosogu
Waves Mei

Though it is usually written that it’s hard to distinguish between the first and second generation Masatsune, the specific use of the go in these cases can let us make an unequivocal attribution to the shodai.

Hozon Ishiguro Masatsune FuchigashiraIshiguro Masatsune Fuchigashira Origami

Ishiguro Masatsune Fuchigashira

This fuchigashira came out of a Japanese collection this year, and is wonderful work by the Shodai Masatsune. I think this is early work since he has used the go of Togakushi in the first form noted above, which originates from his time studying under Naotsune. His name is fully formed indicating he has completed his training under Naomasa. But, we do not see mention of the Ishiguro school yet in this work.

The nanako are formed perfectly as his his reputation, but they are made larger than the later work he produced and those of his followers Masayoshi and Masaaki. I feel like this also indicates that it is early work of his. Because this was mounted and used, some of the nanako points have become flattened but the subjects are undamaged.

The subject matter are three sea creatures: a spiny lobster, a squid and a blowfish. This sounds like the components of a good Japanese meal but there may be other symbolism or wordplay at work here.

One hallmark of Ishiguro work is vivid eyes on the subject matter, and we see this in all three subjects of this fuchigashira. Masatsune’s use of empty space to show off his precise nanako work also appears on the opposite side of the fuchi which has only these nanako.

Close inspection of the inlay work reveals several different karat formations of gold in use to give different shades of yellow in the blowfish. The eyes are of shakudo and silver, and the belly is of rogin.

The squid has shakudo in gold eyes, and is composed of rogin with shakudo toning along the mantle. The suckers of the tentacles are well illustrated and it brings forth a smile to see where they contrast with the nanako which were made of the same size.

The lobster has gold eyes and is composed of copper and shibuichi and is residing on gold sea grass.

This fuchigashira is ranked Hozon, as is common in Japanese collections as it saves money over the long haul and high quality is something evident at a glance. If the new owner desires Tokubetsu Hozon papers, I will provide the service at no charge and guarantee results or a full refund.

For a collector of the animal themes of Ishiguro, this one would be wonderful to add. The addition of the Togakushi go and that it seems to be early work, make it valuable, past the charming and well executed theme. And no Ishiguro collection is complete without a work of the founder. It comes in a custom fit box.

Blowfish DetailSquid DetailBox