|period||Early Edo (ca. 1650-1700)|
|designation||NBTHK Hozon Tosogu Tsuba|
|dimensions||7.6 cm x 7.3 cm|
The Umetada family has a history of working for the Ashikaga shoguns in the early Muromachi period, and continued work through the Edo period under the Tokugawa shogunate. These artisans were responsible for many things, they were used to make swords suriage and add kinzogan-mei by the Honami judges and polishers, they assembled koshirae, made tosogu and also made swords. The first documented maker is Shigeyoshi who may even have begun work in the late Nanbokucho period, but the founder is listed in lineages as either Shigetaka in the late Muromachi or else the most famous member of the school, Umetada Myoju.
Myoju was a polymath as far as the arts of the samurai are concerned. He was born around 1558, and connected his lineage in Kyoto back to Sanjo Munechika of which he claimed to be the 25th generation. He used Shigeyoshi in the beginning of his life, then changed to Myoju around the age of 40. He was a master maker of tanto, carver of horimono, and maker of tsuba. He is the only artist to have Tokubetsu Juyo ranked swords and tsuba both. Furthermore he has both Juyo Bunkazai and Juyo Bijutsuhin rated swords and tsuba as well. No other artist can claim this either.
Myoju trained several high class artists, and the lineage of smiths contains the names Myoshin, Shigenaga, Muneyuki, Muneshige, Shigeyuki, Shigehide, Yoshihisa, Yoshiharu, Muneaki, and Munenaga. He is also the teacher of the great Shinto smith Tadayoshi. Myoju specialized in Soshu style works and seems to have emulated Shizu and Sadamune, and Tadayoshi's early works look like this until he changes over to a style based on Rai. Munenaga, the great horimono artist was also a student of Umetada Myoju and was responsible for several great carvings on Tadayoshi works. His tsuba style seems to originate with the Shoami school but in the Momoyama period came up with his own tasteful techniques involving carving and inlay that make his work quite distinctive.
Myoju died in 1634 at the age of 74 leaving behind his talented school that would continue making great works until the end of the Edo period. A full study of this marvellous school is a long and detailed work that is beyond the scope of this article.
Hozon Umetada Tsuba
The NBTHK attributed this tsuba to Umetada and for me it is difficult to place the date but I think it is late 1600s. A school attribution like this means it could be work of any of the makers of the line, who maintained the traditions of Myoju (technically this includes Myoju, however if the NBTHK thought it was Myoju himself, they'd have certainly said so on the paper). I have seen a couple others like this in some of my client's collections but the form overall seems to be on the rare side.
This tsuba appears to have been mounted until recently as there is some left over markings from the seppa and it was only papered in 2016. It could do with a little bit of TLC as there are some minor condition issues as can be seen in the photos.
This is an interesting tsuba, with one side in iron and the other in shakudo. The piercings on the iron side go through to an inlaid copper plate, and together they make up leaves of the paulownia plant, which is the basis of the kiri mon and the piercings are a stylized form of this mon. This mon belonged to Toyotomi Hideyoshi though it was pretty openly used by families of rank through the Edo period, making it hard to say exactly which family used this tsuba. There is a famous work by Umetada Myoshin, the student of Myoju, who used this technique on a tsuba for an Aoe Tsugunao sword owned by the Mori clan. The carvings on the opposite side also represent this plant.
Considering this tsuba, the work involved is more than double a normal tsuba I think, since there are three layers here, the maker had to make the shakudo plate, make the iron plate, and make the copper plate, then treat each almost the same as a standard tsuba, then mate it all together. So, I don't think it represents a very conventional work.
Umetada school work is highly thought of, and an unusual tsuba like this is a nice addition to a collection, or would be suitable for mounting of a good sword.