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Japanese Art at Bonhams Puts Armour in the Spotlight with Beards and Dragons
A splendid example of Japanese armour –estimated to sell of £100,000-150,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- There is something about Japanese armour that makes Westerners do a double-take. It may well have something do with the fact that the helmets often come equipped with a beard as well as a dragon.

Bonhams next sale of Fine Japanese Art on May 11th, a massive auction of 480 lots estimated to sell for around £1.6m, includes a splendid example of Japanese armour – boasting both beard (white) and dragon (gold and scarlet). The overall effect of this black, blue, orange and gold work of art is to literally stop you in your tracks. The effect it must have had when used by a warrior actively pursuing you with weapons, can only be imagined with a shiver.

This magnificent item, Lot 68, estimated to sell of £100,000-150,000 is an exceptional mogami do tosei gusoku armour from the Edo Period, 18th to 19th century with a helmet signed Myochin...Naga, late Muromachi/early Momoyama Period, 16th century. It belonged to an aristocratic Japanese family, the Hotta clan, with links to a Shogun.

To an eye used to European metal armour this Japanese example is a feast of colours and textures in surprising materials which include black laquer, doeskin, white fur, gilded paper, copper and iron. The armour comes with a wood stand and some additional pieces including a pair of sandals, an eboshi and an adaptor for wearing civilian swords with armour.

The armour is from the collection of treasures which belonged to the Sakura Hotta Family, which was dispersed probably intermittently during and after the Meiji Period. The collection consisted of arms, swords, scroll paintings, Noh masks, screens and, particularly, ceramics for the tea ceremony.

Established in the Momoyama period, the Hotta clan was in the service of the warlords Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598); later, during the Edo Period, Hotta Masayoshi (1810-1864) acted as the Tokugawa Shogun's roju (advisor). After the Meiji Restoration, the head of the Sakura Hotta family was bestowed the title of hakushaku (Count) by the Meiji Emperor.

Another cultural gem in this sale is lot 366, a superb decorated dish also estimated to sell for £100,000 to £150,000. This is a fine and rare Nabeshima shaku-zara, a large dish, circa 1690-1760, decorated with strange images which represent Buddhist symbols of precious emblems comprising the ribboned 'bag of plenty', hat of invisibility, flywhisk, sword, pair of books, castanets, fan, sho organ, pair of scrolls and tama (jewel), popular motifs in Japanese art.

This masterpiece of Japanese 17th century design is thought to date from the earliest period of porcelain manufacture at the Okawachi kilns, patronized exclusively by the Nabeshima Daimyo family, their friends and retainers, although it was also produced for presentation gifts to the Tokugawa.

Nabeshima wares were made only for domestic consumption, and for presentation purposes rather than for actual use. They were not sold on the open market in the Edo period but were made in a limited number, with specific patterns, and in standardized shapes. The dishes were produced in three basic sizes, the two smaller ones in sets of twenty or thirty, with a single large serving dish (of which fewer survive) to match.

Bonhams | Fine Japanese Art | Armours |

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