Ichijô was born in Kyôto on the third day of the third month of the third year of Kansei (March 3, 1791). He was the second son of Gotô Jûyô (後藤重乗)who was the fourth generation head of the Shichirôemon family, Kyôto’s Gotô branch family. He was called Eijirô (栄次郎) in his childhood and he became an adopted son of Hachirôbei Kenjô (謙乗) at the age of nine in 1799. When Kenjô died of illness in Bunka 2 (1805), he became the head of the family at the age of fifteen. At that time he changed his name to Hachirôbei Mitsutaka (光貨). In Bunka 8 (1811), at the age of twenty-one he changed his name to Mitsuyuki (光行). At the age of thirty in Bunsei 3 (1820), he changed his name again to Mitsuyo (光代).
In Bunsei 7 (1824), he made Kodogu to decorate the koshirae of a Masamune sword belonging to Emperor Kôkaku. For this service he was given the rank of Hôkyô on the nineteenth day of December in the same year (1824). At that time, he was thirty-four years of age. At the age of seventy-three in the third year of Bunkyû, he produced a tachi- mounting for the Emperor Kômei and was promoted to the rank of Hôgen.
In the interim between making these two Imperial commissioned pieces, he was commissioned by the Tokugawa Shôgunate in 1851 at the age of sixty-one, moving to Edo to work there under Shôgunate employment. He died in Meiji 9 at the age of eighty-six and was buried at Jôtokuji Temple in Kyôto together with all the great Gotô artists.
Ichijô was the last and one of greatest masters of the Gotô school. When he first took up the metal arts, he followed the Gotô’s traditional style called iebori, and mainly produced the so-called mitokoromono consisting of three parts of sword fittings, namely menuki, kogai, and kozuka. His favorite designs were of dragon and shishi. Later, he dropped the iebori style of workmanship and turned to the style based on a realistic depiction of nature. His motifs were quite diversified and included natural objects such as grasses, flowers, insects, birds, and landscapes. He depicted them in a highly elaborate and precise manner. He enhanced his abilities by devoutly studying painting, drawing, and even poetry under some of the greatest masters of his time.
He worked in all mediums including gold, shakudô, shibuichi, suaka, and even iron. He did extremely thorough work on his pieces. He did everything himself from the basics, through nanako, and all the way to the finished piece. The techniques he used were varied combinations of takabori (high relief), usu-nikubori (low-relief), iroe (use of various colored metals), zôgan (inlay), kata-kiribori (line carving with a cross sections having upright and slanting cuts), and kebori (hair-line carving). He was especially successful in the kin-sunago-zôgan (tiny granular gold inlay) and kirigane-zôgan (thin foil inlay) by which he created decorative effects similar to lacquer work.
When he reached his last years around Ansei and Man-en eras, he took up the use of iron which was an unconventional material for the Gotô school When he used iron, he usually signed with his alias Totsuô sanjin (凸凹山人) or Hôkyô (法橋).
Ichijô trained many great artists including Wada Isshin (和田一真), Araki Tomei (荒木東明), Nakagawa Isshô (中川一匠), Hashimoto Isshi (橋本一至), and Funada Ikkin (船田一琴). Thus, he left a true legacy that is unequaled in Japanese metal working history.
This set of a daisho tsuba and a daisho of menuki is something special and very difficult to find. They were awarded the status of Jûyô Tôsogu at the 62nd shinsa in Heisei 28 (2016). The following is a translation of the Jûyô Tôsogu certificate:
Jūyō-tōsōgu at the 62nd jūyō shinsa from October 18, 2016
Shikunshi no zu daishō-tsuba, daishō-menuki (四君⼦図⼤⼩鐔・⼤⼩⽬貫) – Daishō-tsuba and daishō-menuki depicting the Four Noble Ones (plum, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum)
Daishō-tsuba, daishō-mei: Gotō Hokkyō Ichijō + kaō (後藤法橋⼀乗「花押」)
Daishō-menuki, daishō wari-kibata-mei: Gotō – Ichijō (後藤・⼀乗)
(w/ box inscribed by the artist)
Dai height 7.95 cm, width 7.3 cm, thickness at rim 0.4 cm; shō height 7.2 cm, width 6.65 cm, thickness at rim 0.4 cm
Hinshitsu-keijō: daishō-tsuba in aori-mokkōgata, shibuichi, polished finish, takabori relief, gold, silver, and shakudō zōgan inlay and iroe accents, uchikaeshi-mimi, two hitsu-ana; daishō-menuki of shakudō, in katachibori, with gold and silver iroe accents
End of Edo period
Ichijō was the last great master of the Gotō School. He was born in Kansei three (寛政, 1791) as son of Jūjō (重乗), the 4th generation of the Gotō Shichirō ́emon (七郎右衛⾨) lineage, in Kyōto. At the age of nine, he was adopted by Kenjō (謙乗) from the Gotō Hachirōbei (⼋郎兵衛) lineage and when he was eleven, he started to learn carving from Gotō Hanzaemon Kijō (後藤半左衛⾨ ⻲乗). He took over the Hachirõbei lineage when his father died when he was fifteen years old.
His older brother was Zejō Mitsuhiro (是乗光熈) and his younger brother was Kyūjō Mitsutada (久乗光覧). Ichijō signed initially with Mitsutaka (光貨), followed by Mitsuyuki (光⾏) and Mitsuyo (光代). In Bunsei seven (1824), when he was thity-four years old, he made the fittings for a sword of Emperor Kōkaku (光格天皇, 1771–1840) whereupon he received the Buddhist priest rank of a Hokkyō and whereupon he used the name Ichijō. In Bunkyū two (1862), he made tachi fittings for Emperor Kōmei (孝明天皇, 1831–1867) and received the year after the Buddhist priest rank of Hōgen. Ichijō died in Meiji nine (明治, 1876) at the age of 86.
Of these en suite daishō fittings, the dai-tsuba shows a plum and an orchid, and the shō-tsuba bamboo and chrysanthemum, all of which are elegantly arranged and interpreted in takabori on polished shibuichi and highlighted with gold, silver, and shakudō zōgan inlay and iroe accents. Asa pair, the décor of the tsuba represents the subject of the Four Noble Ones. The dai-menuki depicts bamboo and plum, and the shō-menuki orchid and chrysanthemum, forming so again the same subject. The menuki are of shakudō, are interpreted in katachibori, and are highlighted in gold and silver iroe.
The signature on the tsuba shows the characteristic features of Ichijō’s Hokkyō phase and the menuki that of his Hōgen phase, suggesting so that they were made on different occasions and later combined to a set. The motif, however, is a match and thus we have here a previous and highly elegant set of daishō fittings by Ichijō with the Four Noble Ones subject.
The daishō-menuki come in a box that was inscribed in ink by Ichijō himself.
As explained in the above translation, the theme of these pieces is referred to as the four Nobelmen. They are commonly also referred to as the four Gentlemen. The term compares the four plants to Confucian junzi, or “gentlemen”. The four plants being plum, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum. In line with the wide use of nature as imagery in literary and artistic creation, the Four Gentlemen are a recurring theme for their symbolism of uprightness, purity, humility, perseverance against harsh conditions, among other virtues valued in the Chinese traditions.
Since the times of Confucius the bamboo, orchid, plum, blossom and chrysanthemum have been known as the “Four Gentlemen” of Chinese brush painting. In Japan they are known as the “Four Paragons”. They symbolize the various qualities of the ideal gentleman – cultured, with good character and personality. These are the subjects of beginning students in Sumi-e. The brush strokes learned while studying the four gentlemen are the foundations of later work. Ironically, although these are the first subjects learned, they are generally the last subjects to be mastered.
Bamboo is a symbol of the virtue of modesty. Because it is evergreen it is also a symbol of longevity. There is a famous saying that an artist must become a bamboo before he can paint one. Bamboo represents summer.
The plum tree is the first to blossom, producing buds before its leaves emerge. Since it can flower very early in the year, it is a symbol of winter; because of its purity it also symbolizes virginity.
The orchid, characterized by its sweet smell, generally stands for love and beauty. The orchid is also associated with the season of spring.
The chrysanthemum, with its burnished colors, is a symbol of autumn. Since it flourishes at the end of the year, it denotes longevity and duration.
As mentioned earlier, Ichijô was a devout student of painting and drawing, and he studied under some of the greatest masters of his time. He must have taken real pleasure in creating works of art such as these tsuba and menuki depicting the esoteric aspects of life’s most important symbols and values.