VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium
Japan in the sixteenth century was a country at war. Battles were frequent, armies grew in size and the demand for armour had never been greater. Less complicated construction methods had to be devised and from about 1543 Japanese armourers came under the influence of the Europeans who brought not only simple helmets such as morions and cabassets but also firearms. Multi-plate helmets gave way to simpler two-, three- or four-plate helmet whilst solid plates replaced the current lamellar construction of body armour.
These new styles, more practical and better suited to the types of warfare prevailing at the time, were adopted by all ranks but leaders in the field still needed to be easily distinguished from the common soldiers, not least so that their deeds of valour would be noted. The simplest solution to this problem was to wear armour lacquered a different colour, as Tokugawa Ieyasu did in 1560 at a campaign to provision Otaka castle where his very simple armour, lacquered entirely in gold, would have stood out well amidst the prevailing black. Another popular method was to adorn the helmet with crests in wood or leather and many designs were used, horns and antlers being popular. A further development was to transform the shape of the helmet by adding a design moulded from sheets of heavy mulberry paper, pasted together as a form of papier mâché, or leather which were often strengthened and supported by strips of wood.
This method of construction was called harikake and the helmets themselves are termed kawari, a word meaning 'change' or 'transform'. To begin with they were fairly simple, often in the form of civilian headgear or court caps and the like, but they were soon extended to far more adventurous shapes, such as birds, fish and animal heads (the bear helmet in this sale is an excellent example) or even mountains and religious subjects. By the end of the sixteenth century the helmets were often modelled into simple designs made from iron and to increase the sense of spectacle many of the designs were augmented by crests.
With the coming of the comparative peace of the Tokugawa shogunate the need for practical armour decreased and although still an essential accoutrement of the warrior's equipment its defensive quality was often subjugated to appearance. The severe styles of the sixteenth century were frequently augmented by decorative features from earlier periods and there was almost no limit to the imagination of the clients given the highly developed skills of the armourers. Kawari helmets were produced in more adventurous styles and while many were still produced using harikake some armourers excelled themselves in creating complicated designs in iron, often exhibiting great expertise in the use of uchidashi [repoussé] techniques. Many designs were produced by this method, shells being a particular favourite. Although the designs were for the most part restricted to the helmet and sometimes included the mask, a few embraced the whole armour and examples exist where the do [cuirass] is embossed as a half-clothed or naked torso, usually with the helmet designed as a priest's hood.
The tengu armour in this sale, lot 153, is an exceptional example of an armour in which not only the helmet and mask but the do [cuirass], kote [sleeves] and suneate [shin guards] are all modelled as part of the overall design.