Sword Guard with Magpies and Cherry Blossoms


Sword Guard with Magpies and Cherry Blossoms

others / Meiji

By Tsukada Shūkyō (1848–1918)

Meiji era, 1870


銘文:銘 明治庚午初冬 秀鏡(印「香斎」)

Metal sword guards like this one fit between the blade and hilt of a sword to protect the wielder’s hand.

The front face of this sword guard features cherry blossom designs to the right and left with circling birds above and below. These long-tailed birds are thought to be red-billed blue magpies. The motifs were first depicted in relief and then inlaid into identically shaped indents in the guard. The black background is made of a gold-copper alloy. If you examine it closely, you can notice that it has an unusual texture, which consists of countless tiny circles grouped closely together.

The other face of this sword guard features a different base color from the front. This surface is decorated with designs that resemble hydrangea, eulalia grass, and camellia on a ground of silver-copper alloy. These designs are grouped into the lower-left corner, in contrast to the almost symmetrical arrangement of the motifs on the front of the guard. Although this picturesque grouping of floral motifs looks just as though it were drawn from nature, you may notice that the plants it depicts belong to different seasons. The designs on this sword guard represent the four seasons, beginning with the cherry blossoms on the front, which symbolize spring.

This sword guard is the work of Tsukada Shūkyō, a metal carver whose career extended from the latter half of the 19th century into the early 20th century.

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