Arita Sadatsugu´s revival of old traditions

Nagato province, also known as „Chôshû“, became in the course of the Edo period one of Japan´s greatest production sites of tsuba. There are several reasons for this but a major one was that the local fief, the Chôshû-han of the same name ruled by the Môri family (毛利), considered them as a lucrative source of income, whereas the focus was more on quantity and easy-to-grasp designs for the masses. That does not mean that there were no outstanding masters among the Chôshû-tsuba craftsmen but usually they are not the pinnacle of top-class collections. Now I want to draw attention to one of the outstanding but nevertheless widely unknown Chôshû-tsuba artist Arita Gen´emon Sadatsugu (有田源右衛門貞次). Well, there is some confusion about his name as some sources like the „Kinkô-tanki“ (金工鐔寄) for example which was published in 1839 list him under the name „Naotsugu“ (直次). But already the tôsôgu expert Fukushi Shigeo (福士繁雄) points out in issue 614 of the NBTHK magazine „Tôken-Bijutsu“ (March 2008) that he is in the possession of thee pictures of works of Sadatsugu which are all signed with „Sadatsugu“ and that „Naotsugu“ is just a mistake of the author of the „Kinkô-tanki“ because the more abbreviated the characters for „Sada“ (貞) and „Nao“ (直) are written or chiselled, the more similar they get (see picture 1). However, we know that Arita Sadatsugu was a student of Tomonobu (友信), the second son of the 4th Nakai-generation Tomotsune (中井友恒, ?-1779). Incidentally, the Nakai were an old-established lineage of tsuba makers for the Chôshû fief. And basically that´s it. Not much more is known about Arita Sadatsugu.


Picture 1: The characters „Sada“ (left) and „Nao“ (right) in different forms of abbreviations.

Let us now turn to the workmanship of Sadatsugu. Before we have to deal again with the historical context. In the early and mid Muromachi period, the easternmost region of Honshû was ruled by the Ôuchi family (大内) which was eventually overpowered by their former retainers, the Môri. The Ôuchi had established a fertile ground for what art historians call the „Ôuchi Culture“ (Ôuchi-bunka, 大内文化). It all started with the 9th generation of the family, Hiroyo (大内弘世, 1325-1380), who based his new stronghold Yamaguchi (山口) as regards urban development on the model of the capital Kyôto. His descendants too supported arts and craftsmanship and with the adaption of the later Kitayama and Higashiyama culture, a unique mixture of mainlaind, Christian and Kyôto trends arouse. In this course, Shôami (正阿弥) and other Kyôto-based tsuba artists were invited. After Sekigahara, the lands of the then locally dominating but anti-Tokugawa Môri family were reduced to the provinces of Nagato and Suô and turned into the Chôshû fief with Hagi as its centre. The local tsuba craftsman Umetada Hikobei Masatomo (埋忠彦兵衛正知, 1601-1688) had studied in Kyôto directly under the Umetada school, probably under Shigeyoshi (重義) and not under the famous Myôju (明寿) as stated in most of the old publications. It is said that he came originally from Kawachi province and was a rônin before he was employed by the Môri. As Kawachi is close to Kyôto, it is possible that the contact to the Umetada school existed before he settled in Hagi. However, the works of Masatomo and his successor Nobumasa (宣政, 1642-1720) – who changed his family name later from „Umetada“ to „Okada“ (岡田) – do not show the Umetada style pursued by Myôju but rather a mix of Shôami and later Umetada styles. (A good example of a more faithful Kyôto-style tsuba of the Okada school can be seen here.)

Back to Sadatsugu. To tell you right away, we do not know why Sadatsugu decided to revive the classical styles of the Shôami and Umetada school but we know from extant pieces that he was very successful in that, at least from an artistic point of view and not from the name recognition. I want to start with a work of Sadatsugu which is truly interpreted in the Umetada-style of Mitsutada (光忠) who in turn worked in a sphere what might be best described as of Kyô-Shôami-influence and foreshadowing of Myôju. Mitsutada´s strong point was brass, formed to an uneven surface with more or less accentuated uchikaeshi areas along the rim and an unobtrusive and thus highly tasteful coloring decorated with modest nunome-zôgan applications. In view of the understanding of how far Sadatsugu was able to copy Mitsutada, I want to start with presenting some „originals“.


Picture 2: Brass tsuba signed „Mitsutada“ (光忠). We see a suggested fan, a jakago and some waterside vegetation.


Picture 3: Brass tsuba signed „Mitsutada“ (光忠) which also shows jakago and waterside vegetation.


Picture 4: Brass tsuba signed „Mitsutada“ (光忠) with chrysanthemums and bellflowers.

And now to Sadatsugu. The picture below shows how faithfully he copied Mitsutada, from the surface, the rim, the coloring and the ornamentation, although the shape is somewhat different and reminds with some goodwill a bit of Kaneie (金家). Also the composition of just suggested sections of a landscape – in this case on some bank as we see drying nets (kanmô, 干網), returning wild geese, and on the other side so-called „jakago“ (蛇籠, gabions filled with rocks) – is very much in the sense of Mitsutada. And as we have seen in the sample images above, the jakago is a recurring element of Mitsutada. Please note also how carefully and sparingly Sadatsugu applied the gold nunome-zôgan accentuations.


Picture 5: Mitsutada-copy of Sadatsugu signed „Chôshû Hagi-jû Arita Gen´emon – Sadatsugu saku“ (長州萩住有田源衛門・貞次作)

The next piece too has not much of the typical Chôshû-style. Its rounded-off angular shape tends to a twofold mokkô-gata. We see two large symmetrical sukashi which are accentuated by hikiryô-like beam elements and some golden karakusa and koboku-zôgan (zôgan in the form of withered wood) and some remnants of ginzôgan. Although the iron differs, we can see apart from the overall Shôami approach also some Higo influence, whereas the early Higo master were influenced by the Shôami style themselves.


Picture 6: Tsuba signed „Chôshû Hagi-jû Arita Gen´emon – Sadatsugu saku“ (長州萩住有田源衛門・貞次作)

And the last tsuba of Arita Sadatsugu I would like introduce here is again in a completely different style. Waves arranged in rotational symmetry by the use of large sukashi openings form the motif, whereas the rotation underlines the movement of the rolling waves. The contours result in a sixfold mokkô-gata. The entire interpretation is elegant and graceful. It reminds of Kyô-sukashi or even older Heianjô-sukashi but the younger time of production is apparent. Again we are facing a work of Sadatsugu where he moves away from mainstream Chôshû-tsuba of his time and this is what makes this and the other pieces so interesting, at least for me.


Picture 7: Tsuba signed „Chôshû Hagi-jû Arita Gen´emon – Sadatsugu saku“ (長州萩住有田源衛門・貞次作)

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