Even before accepting the last repair contract of a tsuba signed by Goto Mitsuhar, I was dealing with the idea of approaching the repairs of historical sword fittings and the associated responsibility. Professional care of historical art and objects can be divided into two branches, conservation and restoration. Both of these fields aim at preserving these subjects for the next generations. Whether useful items such as furniture, tools, weapons, or objects for artistic purposes such as paintings, sculptures, etc. But also the utility objects can be promoted to artwork by their processing. Such as carved furniture or decorated weapons, which at the time of their creation were a symbol of the prosperity of their owner, and they also represented the capabilities of their creator.
While conservation deals with the preservation of objects in their founding state and is used mainly in museums, restorers are engaged in returning their functional or aesthetic utilization to match as much as possible their original state. This means a state that corresponds to age and method of use. Of course, it will not always be possible to restore a part of the object so that it is 100% interchangeable with the original part. However, the outcome should not be disturbing or violently stepping forward, and it should be harmonizing with the overall image of the subject.
However, the idea of restoration is not that the subject looks like new, or that the restored part looks new as opposed to the rest of the subject. For example, if a restorer has repaired or added a missing part of the subject, he cannot adapt the original part of the new one, but vice versa. The use of periodically inappropriate materials and practices that change the original visual mood of the subject cannot be considered perfect restoration. On the other hand, he can use advanced technology to achieve the same results as he would with historical technologies. For this option, however, it is necessary for the restorer to be able to use both technologies. Without the knowledge of one or the other, he is not able to evaluate the future result correctly.
Restoration is more demanding of these two, because the restorer has to master the historical processing techniques, and to know period materials and practices. He must have imagination and skill, to be able to imitate the work of the hand that crafted the original object. It is logical that the furniture restorer will not be able to restore historical oil paintings, and vice versa. Each of these sectors requires narrow specialization and long-term study.
Owners of historical pieces are often convinced that the restored object is to be glossed like a new one without any defects or mistakes. However, the restorer knows that all these mistakes, such as abrasions, pressure markss caused by frequent use, etc., belong to the subject’s life and are witnesses of the past. All this gives the object a certain magic that it would miss in “perfect condition”. Therefore, even if the restorer is able to correct these imperfections, he should consider the overall condition of the subject and selectively preserve them. Which may be contrary to the customer’s imagination (however, I believe that such cases are rare).
In our field, Japanese sword fittings, we are dealing with the restoration of both functional and artificially processed items of sometimes high value. There are hundreds to millions of pieces of different quality and value in circulation. With a shift away from functionality to adornment and growing demand for decorative fittings, a large number of pieces was made, the recovery of which is neither necessary nor effective from a historical or artistic point of view. Also, the low market price compared to the sometimes high demands of the intervention is not profitable.
There is also a large number of sword fittings that overcome the other, whether it is the quality of the work or the piece by a valued creator whose work has not been preserved in big quantities. If such a fitting is damaged in a way that significantly affects its appearance and is at the same time repairable, consideration should be given to restoration. The part successfully restored after a significant defect can become a valuable and valued piece of the collection. Not every sword fittings have such a potential though. I think it is necessary to take this aspect of the matter into consideration, not just the economic one. Also, not all defects can be considered suitable for restoration with respect to the overall condition of the fitting. For example, even worn gilding on otherwise untouched pieces may have aesthetic strength that would be lost after repair. However, all these things need to be considered separately on each restored piece. For example: gilding have different resistance to press and different to rubbing. But even resistance to rubbing is different on different places. All this have to be taken into consideration what places to repair and what places to preserve in the original state.
A very nice example of the work that makes sense to restore is tsuba by Goto Mitsuharu (artistic name Josan). He died in April 1687 at the age of 30 years. He was the second son of Goto Renjo, the tenth master of the Goto (Shirobei) line. Probably because of his short life he is considered “only” a middle-class master, and his work is rare among people.
Despite his rank among middle-class masters, his work is very successful and excellent, especially on the body of the dragon. The clouds are treated somewhat more roughly, but it is obvious that they were done with certainty and speed, without contrived precision, which is somewhat detrimental to some works. Hand in hand with the quality of the dragon goes the perfect design of the nanako circularly converging from the edges to seppa dai with admirable precision which is not usual in the so-called average work. Whether the master manufactured nanako himself cannot be said, in any case it reflects the overall quality of the work.
The material of the tsuba is a niguromi-dō (煮黒味銅), or nigurome (煮黒目) (Kanji by Markus Sesko).Tsuba has a gilded structured rim (fukurin). The dragon in goto style