Mumei Ezô menuki 蝦夷目貫, Yamagane-ji 山銅地 (unrefined copper surface), 容彫 katachi-bori (carved with the motif in full), 金色繪 Kin (gold) Iroe. These are a small pair of menuki for a tanto. The are deep in their carving. The Neshi (根足 – pegs) are tubular and attached in the usual manner, with Chikaragane (力金). I believe these menuki date to the mid to late Muromachi Jidai 室町時代中期-後期.
These are small menuki and would have been made for placement on a tantô I think of the Aikuchi style. The sizes are as follows. Hidari 左: 19.6mm x 20.2.mm x 7.3 mm. Migi 右: 19.2 mm x 20.6 mm x 6.5 mm.
The theme is Shishi no Zu 獅子の図. A single shishi or lion dog are on each menuki looking fierce. One Shishi is depicted with its mouth open (to scare off demons) and the other with its mouth closed (to shelter and keep in the good spirits). Another traditional explanation for the open/closed mouth relates to Ah and Un (“Ah” is the first letter in the Japanese alphabet and “Un” is the last). The combination is said to symbolically represent birth and death.
This theme is very typical of all the mainline Gotô masters and was copied by many groups including Waki Gotô, Ko Kinkô and Kyo Kanagushi. Interestingly, there are many similarities between Ezô and early Mino work, and as a side note, there is a strong belief that the first Gotô master Yujô, was related to early Mino artisans. I mention this as I feel there is fairly strong resemblence in the style of these menuki and the early Gotô stylei and a much stronger feel of Kyoto work as opposed to country work and the typical floral work of Ezô.
These are interesting and pleasant early menuki.
Thank you for reading.