Kikuoka Mitsuyuki MenukiKikuoka Mitsuyuki

periodLate Edo (ca. 1780)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Menuki
ratingJoko
meiKikuoka 菊岡 ・ Mitsuyuki (kaō) 光行「花押」
price$5,000 -hold-

Yokoya Somin is responsible for a renaissance in tosogu design in the Edo period. He was trained in the Goto tradition and seems to have felt it to be constraining. He would go on to form new designs with new ideas, and the Yokoya school he founded would be the seed from which many great Edo period schools flowered.

You can read more about the Yokoya school here.

The movement that Somin founded is known as machibori or town carving, which distinguishes it from house carving (iebori) which refers to the work of the Goto and Yoshioka makers who made traditional subjects in traditional materials for the Shogunate and the circle of families in power.

The machibori movement of course took advantage of the Goto techniques and styles as they branched out of the Goto school, and Somin rather than replacing these outright, added layers and mostly reinterpretations of subject matter in innovative ways. The various top level schools that would branch out of his Yokoya school, and that of his primary student Yanagawa Naomasa's school, would all continue to develop their own particular styles as well as make callbacks to Yokoya. Sometimes those callbacks were simply making things like Shishi and Peony tsuba in Yokoya style, and from time to time one of the far off students-of-students may make an utsushi of Somin's work.

These schools that branched off of Yokoya were responsible for a lot of evolution and focused on lush, dynamic beauty that appealed to the ever more economically powerful mercantile class. Eventually their work and presence would go back in turn to affect the Goto school as we see in the work of Goto Ichijo who adopted some of their ideas into his repertoire.

Somin's Legacy
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Kikuoka School

The Kikuoka school was founded by Mitsuyuki, whose family had a cultural background. His father and his grandfather – according to transmission a friend of Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉, 1644-1694) – were renowned haiku and waka poets. Their pseudonym Senryō (沾涼) was later passed on to Mitsuyuki and his art of metalwork was, to a great deal, inspired by poetry. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Kikuoka Mitsuyuki was born in 1750 in Edo. He is the founder of the Kikuoka school, and he was one of the best students of Yanagawa Naomitsu. Naomitsu trained under Naomasa, who was the primary student of Somin. With Mitsuyuki we essentially have the continuation of the Yanagawa school as he preserved the styles and was his best student.

Mitsuyuki was extremely talented and the Kikuoka school he founded became very successful. In terms of skill he is ranked highly at Joko in the Kinko Meikan and Sesko below indicates that he was similarly skilled to both Somin and Naomasa but a little bit less talented in the layout of his subjects. He is known though for his precision in his work, and in later periods Unno Shomin even joked that it must have taken a full day for him to write his signature.

Regarding his workmanship, Mitsuyuki combined the styles of Sōmin and Naomasa and was by no means inferior to them. His interpretations are very carefully carved and are highly graceful. But the price for his rather systematically arranged motifs create concessions in terms of elegance. Therefore he is ranked a little lower than Sōmin and Naomasa. Also, the execution of the signature in a perfect block script (kaisho, 楷書) speaks for his orderliness and the Meiji-era kinkō artist Unno Shōmin criticized [i.e. not seriously] Mitsuyuki stating that he must have wasted an entire day chiselling the signature. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

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Mitsuyuki did achieve fame as well as a poet, working in haiku form. Unfortunately he died young at the age of 51 (before his teacher died), and this limited the number of works we have available from him to this day. However his younger brother Mitsumasa, and their sons and students would go on to create a great number of masterpiece works, and whenever we see items from the Kikuoka school they are always very beautiful.

Goto vs. Yokoya style dragons - both Yanagawa Naomasa
Goto vs. Yokoya style dragons - both Yanagawa Naomasa

Of the works that Mitsuyuki himself left behind, there are 14 Juyo and most of these show the clear and strong influence of the Yanagawa and Yokoya schools as we would expect. He made mitokoromono according to the Goto tradition but with Yokoya school design of the elements, making them feel both classical and also fresh and free at the same time. As well as these works, one of his kozuka is also ranked Juyo Bijutsuhin and is considered his masterpiece.

Juyo Bijutsuhin Mitsuyuki
Juyo Bijutsuhin Mitsuyuki
Tokubetsu Hozon Kikuoka Mitsuyuki MenukiKikuoka Mitsuyuki Menuki Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Menuki

These dragons depart from the standard representation of dragons as handed down from Ko-Mino through the Goto schools. This style though very attractive for both shishi (lions) and ryu (dragons) was something that Somin felt was stagnant and he worked hard at finding a new approach and interpretation in his art.

Somin focused on shishi, tigers and on horses but also made bats, human figures and wildlife of various sorts. His work in dragons is quite rare and this interpretation we see here is an extension of the Yokoya style as is seen in their shishi. We can trace his evolution by looking at what he did in his early career which looks more like Goto work and compare against those from the end in which the style has completely changed and taken on new life.

So we see the same here, where the dragons are represented without scales and the symbolic sword and jewel are no longer presented. The earliest work in this form seems to be Somin's primary student Yanagawa Naomasa who made both Goto and Yokoya styles as pictured above. Kikuoka Mitsuyuki has in this work further evolved the presentation while staying within the overall boundaries of Yokoya work. They were made quite thick and heavy as can be seen from the underside. They are overbuilt with a lot of solid gold (about 13 grams total), making them of premium manufacture.

These menuki are signed in tanzaku style (gold plates affixed to the underside of the menuki) with Mitsuyuki's typical signature and kao. They come in a custom box and are ranked Tokubetsu Hozon for their quality and authenticity.

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