|period||Middle Edo (ca. 1764)|
|designation||NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Daisho Fuchigashira|
|mei||浅井昆寛「花押」— Asai Konkan (kao)|
The artisan who made these menuki, Iwamoto Konkan (1744-1801), was by far the foremost representative of the Yokoya school leading the metal artists' schools in Edo. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English
Konkan was an excellent master smith, used a wide range of styles, and made full use of poetic scenes in his work. His work was very unique and not a direct representation, has some insight and consequences, and draws people's eyes into his world. NBTHK Token Bijutsu
The Iwamoto school in Edo was founded by Chubei, who was a student of Yokoya Soyo. Chubei is said to have studied under the first generation Soyo in some references, and under the second generation under others. Chubei is said to have hailed from Aizu province, and he either took on the name Sootsu or else had a son known as Sootsu Chubei. Following Sootsu is Soei who apparently died very young.. Not too much is known about them because there are no signed works remaining to us for these smiths.
The two smiths to follow this are both named Ryokan, and are the 4th and 5th generations of the Iwamoto school. The 5th generation had similar luck to his predecessors and died young. At this time the senior pupil of the 5th generation was a smith called Asai Ryoun (浅井良云), and he was now designated heir. He would later go on to change his name first to Asai Konkan (浅井昆寛) around 1764, and later to Iwamoto Konkan (岩本昆寛). He would go on to be the greatest smith of the Iwamoto school and according to some, the most talented artist in the greater span of the Yokoya school rivalling Somin himself.
The tosogu book Soken-kisho showed admiration for Konkan's work. It said that he carved very well, and the beauty of his work reminds one of fallen leaves with blooming daffodils, and this is very graceful work. NBTHK Token Bijutsu
Konkan was born in Edo in 1744 and had the family name of Asai and probably the given name of Kisaburo. He inherited the techniques of the Yokoya school through his teacher, but the Iwamoto seem to have dabbled a bit in Nara styles prior to his succession. Konkan would later on be trained by the second or third generation Yasuchika. His first known dated work is from 1770, at the age of 27, and this is done in Yasuchika style.
After absorbing the Nara techniques, Konkan would go on to merge it with those he inherited from the Yokoya school and make his own unique style. As well as this, he was also able to work in the classical style of the Goto school and has made traditional mon based works for court wear with extremely high quality. He also was an accomplished poet, calligrapher and painter.
During the earliest, still developing stage of his creative life, his works reflected influences of both Nara and Yokoya styles. He eventually transcended both influences and reached his own world of art. His most prolific period consisting of An'ei, Tenmei, and Kansei eras (1772-1800) coincided with the time of gold smithing for the sword mount just passing the most prosperous peek in Edo. His contemporaries, such as Omori Eishu and Kikuoka Mitsuyuki, still kept hold of their schools in good shape and continued to follow their traditional ways. Konkan, however, developed a unique style of his own, and produced humorously amusing works fit to the taste of common people represented by the merchant class. Such a trend was a clear deviation from the conventional styles established by preceding masters such as Yasuchika, Toshinaga and Yokoya Somin. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English
Konkan is particularly well known for excellent design in fuchigashira, where the fuchi and kashira come together to form an integrated design. The fuchigashira according to the Token Bijutsu was the most important part of a koshirae in the eyes of the wealthy merchant class of the middle Edo period.
Konkan's students would include Funada Kanjo who was the father and first teacher of Funada Ikkin, one of Goto Ichijo's great students. As well as this, the 4th generation Yasuchika trained under Konkan, and so did Kanri who would inherit the Iwamoto school as the 7th generation. Other students include Konju, Kanju, Kanji, Munenaga, Hirotoshi, and Muto Masatoshi.
The following anecdote is about one of his regular visits to one of the numerous brothels. One day, Konkan received a special order from a customer who wished that one could see at a glance that, without being signed, the piece was aKonkan. Konkan was at loss and one evening visited a brothel in the close-by Naitō-Shinjuku district (内藤新宿) forinspiration. A young kamuro (禿, a geisha-in-training) asked him his name and when she heardKonkanshe started to lough loudly:Your name sounds like someone stroking a gong!The master fell down on his knees, thanked the young girl and rushed home to start his work. He carved a motif where a fox accidentally knocks a gong which is leaning against some bales of rice. He handed over the piece to his customer who was impressed by this brilliant interpretation. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu
Konkan died in 1801 at the age of 58. He did not die suddenly as he left behind a death poem which reads,
When I leave this world, I wear at my return, just the bag of a beggar. This is thought to be a reflection of the colorful life he lead (his wife seems to have been a geisha as well).
Konkan's work and designs have been much enjoyed through the ages, and Kano Natsuo who is possibly the greatest of the Japanese kinko craftsmen even copied some of his themes. Today Konkan's work is relatively hard to find, but often passes Juyo. There are 46 that passed this high to date, and his great skill has given him a ranking of Meiko in the Kinko Meikan. His work can be found in many museums around the world such as the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art and the
Tokubetsu Hozon Iwamoto Konkan Daisho Fuchigashira
This scene is one of thrushes perched on a garden hoe. The Token Bijutsu references this particular theme:
His design depicting a plough [garden hoe] and five adorable white-eyes perching upon it was materialized in the most skilled modelling giving each bird a different live look on the face. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English
This is very rare among all Konkan works because there are no documented cases of him making any daisho. This theme is pictured in the English Token Bijutsu above and a single fuchigashira example he made in this theme passed Juyo already in session 48. Since there are no daisho of any sort or any form, this work seems to be to be very unique and very special for any collection and a good candidate for Juyo.
This work bears his earliest Konkan signature of Asai Konkan so we can date it to around 1764. This signature type is also very rare as most of his work is signed with the Iwamoto family name.
The theme itself and its execution is very charming, and shows that even in his early days his skill level was extremely high. There is no gap between this and the item that passed Juyo. Konkan is known for his clever use of mixed metals and this one shows off his ability to combine them in an artistic manner. In this case he has used silver, rogin (silver alloyed with copper), shakudo and gold to form various tones on the charming birds. I think that one set represents males (the dai) and the other set females (the sho) of the warbling white-eye species. The fact that the birds are set up on garden hoes reflects the admiration that farmers and gardeners have for the species as they are very good at eating insects which attack plants and vegetables and so are seen as friendly, pleasant and helpful neighbors. In some locations this species has been deliberately introduced for pest control.
This daisho was in use in the 1700s so there is a little bit of wear in tear on the nanako in places. This is in keeping with condition issues for items of this period and I don't think is a hindrance to this set passing Juyo.
The fact that there seems to be no other extant daisho of his work makes this one again, extra special and a coup for any serious collector of tosogu.