Mark: [Myochin] Muneyoshi
The Myochin family of armour-makers and metalworkers claimed a lineage dating back to the early 13th century; however, there are no recognized signed pieces by the Myochin School until the 16th century. They were important makers of armour and sword fittings, particularly sword guards (tsuba), for the ruling samurai families of the Edo period (c. 1600–1867).
In this time of relative peace their skill in the manufacture of flexible armour lent itself to the production of purely decorative articulated animals (jizai) using the same techniques of riveting metal plates as those employed on armour. The Myochin were especially skilled in the production of jizai and their many fanciful animals (dragons, sea creatures, insects, etc.) were in huge demand with wealthy samurai and the ascending merchant class of Japan’s huge cities.
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868 many of the Myochin School adapted the techniques formerly used to rivet metal to create armour, to now make feathers and scales. Jizai are amazingly flexible and can be moved into different positions; this snake, when held, moves in a most naturalistic way. We do not know precisely which Muneyoshi made this piece; there were a number of makers during the Edo period using this signature and one of the last of this name lived from 1852 to 1940 and exhibited his work at the Japan- British Exhibition at the White City, London in 1910.
Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection
Decorative Art Okimono
Iron with russet patination and inlaid gold eyes
Length 161 cm