During the Edo period, metalworkers were kept busy making swords, daggers, and tsubas for samurai clients. However, the metalworkers turned to other means of survival when the Restoration government prevented samurai from wearing swords. During the Meiji, metalworkers made vases, sculptures, and other decorative objects for their new clients in Japan and abroad. Japanese artists working in bronze and other metals were recognized for their excellence at the Vienna exhibition of 1873, and the later Exposition of metalwork in Nuremberg, in 1885.
During the Edo period, metalworkers were kept busy making swords, daggers, and tsubas for samurai clients. However, the metalworkers turned to other means of survival when the Restoration government prevented samurai from wearing swords. During the Meiji, metalworkers made vases, sculptures, and other decorative objects for their new clients in Japan and abroad. Japanese artists working in bronze and other metals were recognized for their excellence at the Vienna exhibition of 1873, and the later Exposition of metalwork in Nuremberg, in 1885.

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This bronze elephant shows the influence of French animal sculptors such Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875), whose bronze sculptures of elephants closely resemble this one.

Mark of Jozan or Josan
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Bequest of George J. Alexander

Bronze, ivory and glass
h.: 52 cm
© Art Gallery of Greater Victoria


The shape of these incense burners shows the influence of Victorian silver designs, resembling large urns, or kettles that one might find in a Western interior. Each burner stands on five legs that grow out of the mouth of monsters. There are two dragons for handles, and another sitting on the lid. Incised both front and back with Japanese motifs, they are an example of Japanese interpretation of the confusion of Victorian designs that were introduced to Japan during the Meiji period.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Dr. William H. Pugsley

Bronze inlaid with gold
53.3 x 20.3 x 19.2 cm
1981.Ee.3a-b
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


This rectangular, gold-decorated, copper covered box is in the form of two intersecting boxes. The central decoration of a an elderly man facing a young child holding a plum branch may be an allusion to the artist-poet Sugaware-no-Michizane, chancellor to the 9th century Emperor Daigo. The box, intended for use during the incense game, is decorated in several colours of gold.

Komei
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Neil B. Ivory

Copper alloy inlaid with gold
4.7 x 8.8 x 7 cm
1983.Ee.7
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


These elongated, baluster-shaped bronze vases were undoubtably made for the export market, or for use in a Western-style interior found in a Japanese house. The busy design, which covers the vases front and back, is more Victorian in style than Japanese.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Anomymous gift

Bronze inlaid with copper alloy
1989.Ee.2-3
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Contrast the metalwork of Japan, before and during Meiji period
  • Describe the Western influences present during the Meiji period on metalwork
  • Appreciate the aesthetic qualities of Japanese artistry
  • Recognize, in words and pictures, elements of Japanese decorative arts
  • Relate Japanese decorative art themes and objects made from metals to those found in their own culture

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