|period||Early Edo (ca. 1650)|
|designation||NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Mitokoromono|
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 Teijo (後藤程乗) is the 9th mainline master of the Goto family and had the civilian name of Mitsumasa (光昌). He was born to the 7th generation Kenjo in 1603. Goto Sokujo, the 8th master was the son of the 6th master Eijo, and died young at 32 years of age in 1631. Thus, Teijo inherited the school at the age of 28.
His father Kenjo and his uncle Kakujo worked for the Maeda daimyo in Kaga province, and Teijo followed them in or around 1646 when his son Renjo took over as family head. This allowed Teijo to work in Kanazawa, where he received a mansion from the daimyo Maeda Toshitsune. Meanwhile, Renjo transferred the school from Kyoto to Edo to work closer to the Tokugawa Shoguns who were the primary clients of the Goto family. In spite of the geographical distance, Teijo, Renjo and the 11th generation Tsujo overlapped enough in time to make joint works together.
The work of these Teijo, Kenjo and Kakujo is the beginning of the Kaga Goto school. These makers and their followers were all quite highly skilled. The Kinko Meikan ranks Teijo as Meiko which is the next to top rank for a kinko artisan.
Goto Teijo signed some of his items but mostly left his work unsigned. This was standard practice at the time as the works were going to daimyo, nobility and the Shogunate. When he signed he signed sometimes with his civilian name Goto Mitsumasa, sometimes he signed just in two characters as Teijo with his kao. Sometimes he signed and filled his name in gold. From the signed items we can see a diverse work style and subject matter that branched out from the standard shishi and dragon types from previous generations. Some of these are whimsical. However when he made dragons, he made powerful and beautifully shaped items.
To date 41 of Teijo's works have passed Juyo, and one tsuba passed Tokuju (his kogai is part of a mixed set on a daisho which has also pass Tokuju). There are some other mixed sets of Goto work at Juyo that contain his work as well. Furthermore there is an outstanding koshirae for a ken which is the work of Goto Teijo and has the rank of Juyo Bunkazai, and Important Cultural Item.
Tokubetsu Hozon Mitokoromono
This is an unusual set of tosogu over all Japanese fittings, as it has a theme of kittens. On the kozuka and kogai, they are sleeping with butterflies and peony flowers (botan). This would seem to be done as a play on the standard presentation of botan with shishi which are lions. Lions being the king of animals and botan the queen of flowers or plants, are often paired together as representations of power. So in this case, it seems to be a gentle take on the subject matter substituting sleeping kittens for shishi.
As well when presenting tigers, the standard form of doing this is to use one striped tiger and then a leopard. In old Japanese art the spotted leopard was taken to be a female tiger, so they are a male and female pair. Teijo seems to have played off of this theme at the same time by making one cat spotted (though not like a leopard) and the other striped so we can take them as a male female pair of miniature tigers.
Going up to the internment site of the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu is a carved transom which is Kokuho, a national treasure, and also uses this theme of botan and a sleeping housecat.
Nemuri-neko (眠り猫 or 眠猫, "sleeping cat", from nemuri, "sleeping/peaceful" and neko, "cat") is a famous wood carving by Hidari Jingorō (左甚五郎の作) located in the East corridor at Tōshō-gū Shrine (日光東照宮) in Nikkō, Japan.
[...] Nemuri Neko "Sleeping Cat symbolizes Nikkō or the Spirit of Ieyasu, who was thought to be the manifestation of Yakushi Nyorai", the Buddha of Healing, who offers medicinal remedies, gives nourishment to the mind, body, and spirit, and comforts the sick and cures illnesses. Wikipedia
Furthermore, butterflies were thought to represent human spirits of living or dead people and were generally considered good omens. Since butterflies are flying over the sleeping cat, the entire set seems to stand a reference to Tokugawa Ieyasu and invokes the above comforts.
Hirata Nariyuki used this same theme in a tsuba illustrated in the Token Bijutsu, which he is famous for, and confirms that the combination of these elements has meaning.
Rokudai Nariyuki is especially known for a tsuba entitled "Botan-cho-ni Nemuri-neko-zu Tsuba (tsuba with design of butterflies on peonies beside a sleeping cat)." English Token Bijutsu
I've seen this theme on some other Japanese art, with a butterfly and a sleeping cat, so it's possible there is some alternative or additional meaning that I'm missing out on. If anyone knows anything, feel free to message me, and if I find out anything new I'll update this.
This is a very pleasant mitokoromono that can sit well in any collection. The unusual theme and high level maker make it special. Unfortunately at some time in the past this was mishandled and there are some fingerprints obvious on the kogai, it should be possible to address this with restoration.
They reside in a custom box and are ranked Tokubetsu Hozon for their quality and importance.