|period||Beginning of Edo (ca. 1630)|
|designation||NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Menuki|
|dimensions||2.2 cm x 1.7 cm, 2.4 x 1.8 cm|
The mainline Shirobei branch of the Goto family stands by itself in the history of soft metal fittings. Its founder is Yujo, who was likely born in Mino in 1440 and assimilated the various traditions of the time. He worked for the Ashikaga shogun Yoshimasa, and developed a typical style which he handed down to his son Sojo and would form the basis for house carving – iebori – for the rulers of Japan.
The Ashikaga Shoguns granted Yujo (who died in 1512) and his heirs a certain amount of hereditary income from Sakamoto in Omi province. This continued through the sponsorship of Goto Joshin who worked for Ashikaga Shoguns Yoshiharu and Yoshiteru. The fifteenth Ashikaga Shogun Yoshiaka was the last of the line, and died when Oda Nobunaga began conquering Japan and took over Kyoto in 1568. At this point the Goto family began working for Nobunaga and his circle, which would eventually hand power to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then to Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Goto line continued working for the Tokugawa through the end of the Edo period.
The first three generations of the main line, Yujo, Sojo, and Joshin took their names after entering the priesthood and did not sign their work. We generally do not see signatures until the later generations of this school. Along with the fourth generation Kojo, the work of these initial generations is restricted to the small fittings, kogai, kozuka and menuki, sometimes in sets of mitokoromono (
things for three places).
These fittings were strictly made in a style we call iebori, or
house carving, and were made entirely in gold or shakudo or a combination of the two metals by rule.
Popular themes included dragons and shishi, which reflected themes of power and majesty and well suited the kinds of top level blades on which they would be placed. We tend to see these themes in gold on kozuka and kogai, placed on black shakudo nanako ground. We collectively refer to them as Ko-Goto, which is a term referred to for pre-Momoyama Goto work. This term I have seen used with a bit of flexibility, either to denote the first three generations, or the first five. The fifth generation Tokujo however is the first to make tsuba, and also he developed chemical plating processes that were used in place of the mechanical riveting processes of the older generations. As well his work is aligned with the Momoyama period, and so I think this is the logical place to separate the groups.
Goto Kenjo (also known as Masatsugu) was born in 1586 and was the second son of Goto Tokujo, the 5th mainline master of the Goto lineage. He was not due to inherit the line as his older brother Eijo was the 6th mainline master. Eijo died young though and his own son was not ready, so Kenjo took over and became the 7th mainline master. Though Eijo's skill is questioned by Mosle (who also questions Teijo, I think both rather unfairly), Kenjo was quite excellent and showed some liberal taste in expanding the repertoire of the Goto family. The high level of his skill is testified in the fact that 42 of his works have passed Juyo, and three have passed Tokubetsu Juyo. For the count of Juyo works, only the 2nd master Sojo and 3rd Joshin have higher among the mainline Goto smiths and these numbers are only surpassed by Goto Ichijo out of all Goto makers.
As Yeijo’s son Sokujo was too young when his father died, his younger brother, Kenjo (Masatsugu), 1585-1663, became the successor of Yeijo. Kenjo brought new life into the school, and, contrary to his predecessors, took to new models, and his ornaments are not so rigid and more graceful. He was a very skilful master, and widened again the scope of the work, while he made whole sets (soroimono) of sword furniture. He also used copper and silver. Mosle, The Goto Shirobei Family
After Eijo's son Sokujo was of age and ready to take over, Kenjo alternated working one year each in Kyoto making tosogu for the Shogunate, and in Kanazawa, making tosogu for the Maeda daimyo. The school he founded working under the Maeda became known as Kaga Goto and their work is quite excellent. Goto Sokujo was also quite skilled, probably because he was taught by Kenjo, but unfortunately died in 1631 so Kenjo outlived him by a long time and Kenjo's son Teijo would go on to become the 9th master as Sokujo left nobody behind. Kenjo lived a long life and died in 1663 at 78 years old.
Goto Kenjō was the second son of the 5th generation Tokujō (徳乗). When his older brother Eijō (栄乗) – the 6th generation – died in Edo, the son and heir Sokujō (即乗) of the latter was too young and so Kenjō succeeded as 7th generation. In Kan´ei four or five (寛永, 1627~28), Sokujō became the 7th head of the Gotō family, and so Kenjō and his cousin Kakujō (覚乗) started to work for 150 koku for the Kaga Maeda family (前田) on a biannual basis. This laid the foundations for the flourishing of the Kaga-Gotō branch. NBTHK Juyo Tosogu reference
Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Kenjo Menuki
I bought these a long time ago as I was charmed on sight, and didn't paper them until recently. The box had a label on them saying Goto Tokujo, but there was no secure attribution. When I gave these to the NBTHK they came back as den Kenjo, indicating that they are probably overlapping with the style of Tokujo who is Kenjo's father, but the work is most likely to be Kenjo.
The gold in these menuki is high grade, and very heavy and there was no expense spared it seems when these were made. Since Kenjo worked both for the Tokugawa and specifically for the Maeda daimyo, this could be from either run. His work of course for the Kaga based Maeda daimyo created the Kaga-Goto school under him.
I always loved these menuki because of the monkeys natural and merry sentiment. I showed a friend once some years ago who felt the theme might be something a son would have made for a father in order to show his appreciation.
They come in a nice old box, as mentioned there is a label on the side of the box to Goto Tokujo on it, this was how I found them many years ago so I'm leaving it as it was found. Just in case you were wondering when you see it.