A stunning suit of museum-quality Japanese armour with a 16th century helmet sold for £120,000 at Bonhams New Bond Street, yesterday (May 11). The whole sale made a total of over £1.6m
The exceptional suit of armour dating from the Edo period (18th-19th century) was accompanied by a 16th century helmet. It belonged to an aristocratic Japanese family, the Hotta clan, with links to a Shogun, the historic senior nobility of imperial Japan.
Compared 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 likely dispersed during and after the Meiji period (1868-1911).
The legendary aristocratic collection a range of classic Japanese objects: 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, or advisor. After the Meiji restoration in1868, the head of the Sakura Hotta family was awarded the title of Hakushaku, or count, by the Meiji emperor.
The top lot in the sale was a cultural gem: a superbly decorated 17th century 'nabeshima' dish. Estimated to sell for £100,000 to £150,000, it finally realised £180,000.
The large dish, dated circa 1690-1760, is decorated with highly auspicious but mysterious images each representing "the eight Buddhist precious emblems".
These include a ribboned "bag of plenty", a hat of invisibility, a flywhisk, a sword, a pair of books, castanets, a fan, a sho organ, a pair of scrolls and a tama (or jewel) - all popular motifs in Japanese art.
A masterpiece of Japanese 17th century design, the dish is thought to date from the earliest period of porcelain manufacture at the Okawachi kilns, patronised 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 standardised shapes with three basic sizes.
"Today we saw some of the highest prices achieved in European auctons for a variety of the classic products of Japanese craftsmanship," said Suzannah Yip, Director of the Japanese Department.
"The best examples of ivory carvings, early porcelain, armour and lacquer all attracted strong bidding from Europe, the US and even Japan. We were delighted by this evidence of greater confidence among top buyers of Japanese art."
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