A samurai mask of ryūbu style hammered out of a single sheet of iron

Edo period, 17th century


Ryōei is considered a legendary armor maker and his name is closely associated to the uchidashi (hammering) technique. His real name was Ohara and he lived near Edo (Tokyo) in the late 17th century. Ryōei had a remarkable instinct for iron and was able to forge helmets, masks and cuirasses by hammering a single metal foil into the desired shape. If not for his disciple Kunitaka, who learned the technique but was unable to capture his teacher's "spirit," his talent would have never been attained. Ryōei's masks are in fact infused with the wabi-sabi aesthetic, which was highly popular at the time for ceramic and tea ceremony items. The stylistic preference for a rough surface and straightforward designs that impart a sense of unrefined elegance to the wearer is a feature that no other armor maker has ever applied. The surface on Ryoei’s masks are sometime hammered to create a rough pattern called tsuchi-me, here visible on both cheeks.

Ryōei was popular during his lifetime. The Meikō Zukan, a manuscript from the 18th century that reproduces some of the best armor pieces of Japan, includes a number of his works. The characteristics of Ryōei’s masks depicted in these drawings include the traits of this particular mask: the distinctly shaped ears, the small extra neck protections, the embossed yadome, the unusual nose, and the middle-tapered upper lip; some features like tsuchi-me are both drawn and described.

The tare (throat protection) is a simple chain-mail kusari yodare-kake that fits the wabi-sabi aesthetic.

Inventory Nr: 1837

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