|period||Late Edo (ca. 1810)|
|designation||NBTHK Hozon Tosogu Tsuba|
|mei||Ryukudo Mitsuoki (kao)|
|dimensions||7.55cm x 7.0cm|
Toward the end of the century a versatile genius, Mitsuoki (son of Mitsuyoshi ), came into prominence. He far surpassed his contemporaries in his command of design and color, and at first stood quite alone in his disregard of classic Kano school models, taking many of his designs from the painter Ganku, with whom he studied. Okabe, Japanese Sword Guards
The Ōtsuki (大月) school begins with Ōtsuki Korin (Mitsushige) who is a craftsman of Owari province in the early 1700s. He traced his lineage back 18 generations to Ichikawa Hirosuke who is (in legend at least) the founder of all kinko artists. Korin worked in Kyoto maintaining a shop called Senya and did metalwork of all types, including sword fittings, and followed the Goto style. Following him are Mitsutsune and Mitsuyoshi, but the 4th generation Mitsuoki would be one of the all time greats of kinko artists. In practice he is considered the founder of the school.
Mitsuoki is said to have been a dignified and righteous man, but also a lover of sake. His masterpieces made the Ōtsuki school famous, and he obtained the reputation of being one of the Kyoto Sansaku (Three Great Artists of Kyoto) along with Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Tetsugendo Shoraku. He lived to the age of 69 in 1834 having trained several talented students.
During his life he seems to have enjoyed wordplay because he signed with many different variations of his name, using Dairyusai, Ryugyokusai, Ryusai, Ryukudo, Zeikuniudo, Shiwundo, Shiryudo, and Shiryu. This may not be a comprehensive list either.
There is no question that Mitsuoki is the best master smith among the Kyoto kinko smiths. NBTHK Token Bijutsu
Mitsuoki moved to Kyoto at 20, then to Edo at 30 where he studied under a painter, Ganku, at the imperial court, and the influence is seen in the production of his work of birds, reeds and his human figures which are said to be represented with power and grace. He further studied under Nagazawa Rosetsu, and by the age of 50 returned to Kyoto.
Among the students inheriting from Mitsuoki is Shinoyama Atsuoki, who is also held as one of the very topmost kinko artists. He went on to provide custom work for the Shogun and the Emperor, and illustrates well the level at which the Ōtsuki school was achieving. Other great students in this school were Tokuoki, Hideoki, Minayama Oki, Tenkodo Hidekuni, Matsuo Gassan, and his son Mitsuhiro. One of them was Ikeda Takatoshi who would go on to teach the great master Kano Natsuo.
The high relief (takabori) and unevenly v-shaped line carving (katakiri-bori) techniques are his most advanced skills.
Metal materials favored by him include iron, shakudo, shibuichi, and brass. which with his gifted talent were all utilized in the most adequately selected manner. Among them, brass or shinchu was his best favorite for the ground metal. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English
Though he worked in all these metals, his early works feature fuchigashira in shakudo with nanako, and tsuba with various metals and gold menuki and frequently used the Ryukudo signature in block characters. Later works move to shibuichi and mostly have the Shiryudo signature in cursive characters. Final period works are said to use suaka (copper) and shibuichi and then he uses the Dairyusai or Tsuki signatures and feature katakiribori prominently.
Among the sword fittings makers, he may be compared equally with earlier or contemporary masters such as Yokoya Somin, the three great masters of the Nara school (Yasuchika, Toshinaga and Joi), and Ichinomiya Nagatsune. The polished shibuichi kozuka where the otsu-e design dealing with the goblin's image called Kinenbutsu was presented by katakiribori and flat inlay techniques is a representative example testifying to his excellent artistic proficiency. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English
The Otsuki school Mitsuoki brought to prominence gained high reputation in his time and that of his students and was very prosperous. Today there are 11 of his works that have passed the high rank of Juyo Tosogu and he holds the rank of Meiko in the Kinko Meikan. His works can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and various other museums around the world.
This wonderful tiger I think comes from Mitsuoki's middle period, where he began to work in katakiribori and moved away from realistic depictions. It is done in his typical base metal of brass and features his excellent katakiribori carving techniques. Since the signature is Ryukudo Mitsuoki I think this is the best guess.
The chiselling is impeccably done, and the gold eyes of the tiger in low relief inlay correspond with the techniques that made him famous.
The finishing of the ground and color he brought out of the material make it a remarkable and beautiful artwork. The simplicity offsets the detailed and skilled carving perfectly.
This is a very charming tsuba that would grace any collection, and represent the top maker of the Otsuki school and one of the great craftsmen of the Edo period.
I guarantee Tokubetsu Hozon papers should someone wish to submit it, often times a work like this is only submitted to Hozon to confirm the signature and it is left to the viewer to assess the rest. It resides in a custom made box.