Monsoon Asia Sword Guard

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Provenance: Elliott Long $700.00
A design combining Chinese-Tibetan and Indochinese elements, such as this composite creature with the head of a lion and a serpentine body. The flowing mane is pointed, like the forelock of a Mekong Phaya-naga.The pointed shitogi-gata seppa-dai, pierced with a prefabricated nakago-ana to accommodate multiple tang systems suggest Monsoon Asia as place of origin--probably made to order for the VOC. The mode of forming the kozuka-ana, the fastidiousness of the carving, and the use of nunome is not unlike certain Hizen work (Onitake, Hattori, Yamada, etc.) Note how the bending tangle of Loukong interlacing seems to anticipate the kozuka-ana, which is inset as a metal band--a technique used by the Yagami Mitsuhiro school. This guard appears to have never been mounted, which would agree with the notion that many such objects were made for use as gifts, and preserved as art objects. Multi-system nakagao-ana seem to be associated with guards made for the Dutch, who being in Nagasaki could surely have ordered guards from local metalworkers. The problem is that so far no records have been located at that level of specificity. Tsuba would have been deemed minor goods--things of no importance--and thus perfectly suited to many of the requisite gift-giving rituals.

7.4cm x 7.5cm x 0.45cm
My research suggest that the use of the word "Nanban" to describe sword fittings in a Chinese or south Asian style was adopted after 1895, and may have reflected growing nationalist militarism in Japan at that time. To appreciate these objects correctly, we need to develop new terminology. I am familiar with the image you attach. By "Japanese lion" do you mean "shishi"? The Oroborous reading, and Iberian influence is open to question. It is a very rare design trope in Japanese art, and by the time this was produced Iberian influence had diminished considerably. It seems to blend many regional influences, which is a trait of export-style art. This may not have been created for use as a weapon. It bears no sign of use. The Dutch ordered many weapons for use as gifts from all over "Monsoon Asia" (a term coined by Dutch historian Leonard Blusse). Such guards as I have been able to identify have this peculiar opening for the sword-tang. Because the Dutch conducted brisk trade with Thailand and Vietnam, I had to consider that the creature on this guard might be a composite that included the Mekong phaya-naga. Indian nagas have cobra-heads, while the southeast Asian variety seem to have these flowing pointed locks. (see below) In my many years of looking at Japanese sword fittings, I have never before encountered this design. (McElhinney, Long)

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A Collaboration of Robert E. Haynes and Elliott D. Long

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