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Unno Yoshimori Kozuka

Unno Yoshimori

If one was asked to name the last great masters in the world of tosogu, two names will come up: Kano Natsuo (加納夏雄) and Unno Shomin (海野勝珉). For many collectors of machibori tosogu, the same answer may come when asked for the greatest tosogu craftsmen of all time, or at least they will be part of the answer. However, regardless of personal taste in collecting, being it either Momoyama kinko works, Muromachi sukashi tsuba or even solely nihonto, one has to recognize that these two artists drove the finesse of japanese metalwork - and some may say metalwork in general - to a previously unknown level. They lived through the struggling times of the bakumatsu period and sword ban which left the vast majority of swordsmiths and tosogu artists without work, seriously endangering many existances. By their virtuous skill, clever strategies, wealthy patrons and their adaption to become artists beyond  the world of tosogu, they became some of the highest regarded metalworkers in japanese art.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the work of shomin and it's outstanding quality was widely recognized, yet, in the world of tosogu he was more favoured by the very few western collectors. It was not until the last decades that Shomin and his Unno school rose to the great fame (and price) we see today. As with lots of western artists too, the great, widespread appreciation, raising him to the level of great foreworkers from past centuries, only came post mortem and even many decades later. However, even among his contemporaries, his work was already highly appreciated, albeit not on the level of the great tosogu masters of Muromachi, Momoyama and Edo times and thus not treasured away from foreigners, as done with works of Kaneie, Nobuie or Yasuchika.

It is due to this late interest in Japan itself that many works of the Unno school are spread around the world, many in museum collections, some forgotten in old, locked-away collections and finally a few that become rarely available for sale. In the past decade of collecting, I recall exactly three signed Unno pieces that I have seen for sale, one nice set of flower menuki offered by our passed friend Darcy Brockbank, one small, yet beautiful wakizashi kinko Tsuba and a Daisho Tsuba, albeit on iron base. It is thus very rare to find a signed work from the Unno school, not speaking of Unno Shomin himself. If you find something zaimei from him, let me know, I will pay very generously, haha.

Anyway, now to the wonderful piece we see here, a Kozuka by Unno Yoshimori (海野美盛), uncle and also the first teacher of the famous Unno Shomin. There are two generations known, yet, based on the signature and especially the kao, we can attribute this piece to the shodai (1st generation). Yoshimori had several students that became succesful artists, though no one came close to the rank of his famous nephew. 

On this Kozuka we can see the high level of technical finesse that formed Shomin in his early years. On a high quality shibuichi plate, three deers in the moonlight are engraved. The scenery takes place in the middle of a misty night in late autumn, where the nocturnal deers frolick among the autumn maple leaves with the moonlight reflecting on the mist, first forming in these colder late-fall nights. It is a calm and spiritual scenery, raising a joyful feeling as moon watching is a highly regarded social and spritiual event, as deers are considered the sacred messengers of the Shinto deities.



The technical detail is amazing and combines very different carving styles of deeply cut deer-silhouettes, perfect and crisp antler inlay, the leaves in two colours and finally the great inlay of moon and brilliant mist. It is also worth to note the great execution of the deers fur, its gold pattern and the very precise inlay of the eyes. The overall level of the work and also the artistic interpretation is on a very high level.








This kozuka resembles the technical mastery of Unno Yoshimori and is, also based on the rarity, a very interesting and collectable piece of tosogu. It is of course accompanied by an NBTHK Origami, attesting to the authenticity and quality of the piece.

Unno Yoshimori
Unno Yoshimori
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