A stunning suit of museum-quality Japanese armour with a 16th century helmet sold for £120,000 at Bonhams
New Bond Street, (11.5.2010). While the whole sale made a total of over £1.6m
This exceptional suit of armour dating from the Edo period (18th to 19th century), accompanied by a 16th century helmet, belonged to an aristocratic Japanese family, the Hotta clan, with links to a Shogun, the historic senior nobility of imperial Japan.
To an eye used to European metal armour this Japanese example is a feast of colours and textures, elaborately constructed from surprising materials which include black lacquer, doeskin, white fur, gilded paper, copper and iron.
The armour came from the collection of treasures which belonged to the Sakura Hotta family, which was dispersed probably intermittently during and after the Meiji period (1868-1911). This legendary aristocratic collection formerly comprised the classic range of essential objects found in an important traditional Japanese private collection: arms and armour, swords, scroll paintings, noh masks, screens and, particularly, ceramics for the tea ceremony.
Established in the Momoyama period (1573-1615), the Hotta clan provided major military service to 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 (1868), the head of the Sakura Hotta family was awarded the title of Hakushaku (count) by the Meiji emperor.
Top lot in the sale today was a cultural gem, a superbly decorated 17th century nabeshima dish estimated to sell for £100,000 to £150,000, which was knocked down for £180,000.
This large dish, dated circa 1690-1760, is decorated with highly auspicious but mysterious images which represent the eight Buddhist 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 Daimyo family of the Nabeshima clan, their friends and retainers, although this rare and expensive porcelain was also produced as presentation gifts to the Tokugawa shogun.
Nabeshima wares were made only for the Tokugawa family and top officials in Japan, never for export, and were intended for presentation rather than for actual use. They were never sold on the open market in the Edo period, but were made in very limited numbers, 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; for each set one single large serving dish like the one in todays sale would be provided, and therefore very few large ones survive in public or private collections.
Suzannah Yip, Director of the Japanese Department, commented: Today we saw some of the highest prices achieved in European auctons for a variety of the classic products of Japanese craftsmanship. The best examples of ivory carvings, early porcelain, armour and lacquer all attracted strong bidding from Europe, the U.S. and even Japan. We were delighted by this evidence of greater confidence among top buyers of Japanese art.