Kyo Shoami         

Sukashi design: Maple leaf and Deer antler (Kasugano) Genroku, circa 1700  

Material: Iron (tetsu)     Shape: round (shin no maru-gata)   
Height: 81.2 mm   Width: 80.8 mm  Rim thickness: 4.8 mm
Centre thickness: 4.6 mm   Rounded corner rim (maru mimi)
Formerly collection of Ron Hartmann

A famous herd of tame deer has been associated with the Kasuga Shrine - Kofukuji Temple complex, founded in Nara by the Fujiwara family in 709 A.D., for centuries.  According to Shinto legend, the kami of Kashima Jinja (in modern Ibaraki Prefecture) and Katori Jinja (in Chiba Prefecture), were summoned by the head of the Fujiwara clan, and arrived riding on white deer for installation in the new shrine.  The notion of deer serving as means of passage for divinities to the world of men enters into Shinto from Taoism.  In Taoist belief, deer are the only animal able to locate the sacred Fungus of Immortality [reishi, mannendake] and live to an exceptionally old age.  Deer are, therefore, the messengers of the gods of immortality, Furukokuju and Jurojin.  By the 17th century, the antlers of the resident deer were deemed hazardous to the crowds of visitors to the temple and shrine, and the ceremonial cutting of the antlers (Shika-no-Tsunkiri) became an annual October event.  The combination of deer antler and maple is a wonderful example of the allusive seasonal imagery beloved in Japan. 

The maple leaves are highlighted with gold nunome (not really visible in the photograph) and bear residual traces (considerably more prominent in the photograph than in reality) of red pigment.  The more pictorial approach in which tree, leaves, and antler are modeled in the round and finely chiseled to suggest the textures of bark and horn, and the use of slightly-colored highlights, suggests the influence of the Kyoto-based  Kanō School of painting.

The size differs from the height printed in the catalogue, but this is almost certainly the same tsuba listed in the Robert E. Haynes Ltd., Catalogue 5, Fine Japanese Tsuba, Fittings, Woodblock Prints, Netsuke, Inro and Books on Swords and Tsuba, March 27, 1983, page 27, lot 63, described:

    FINE CLASSICAL KYO-SHOAMI WORK. The sand iron plate is well forged 
  and shows some iron bones in the  edge.  The sukashi is bold and strong with good
  gold nunome highlights.  The antler and maple leaf design refers to the Takeda
  Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin battles.  A very good Genroku example, ca. 1700. Ht.
  7.5 cm. Th. 4.75 mm.