Important Cultural PropertySaddle with lion motif in mother-of-pearl inlay

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  • 1 piece
  • Lacquered wood
  • Front arch H26.0 rear arch H30.3 bars L41.5
  • Heian-Kamakura period/12-13th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • H-3753

The saddle tree (kurabone, the body of the saddle) since medieval times usually takes the umiarigura form (saddle with `sea' parts): there is a raised part (iso, shore) on the outer sides of the front and hind arches (pommel and cantle), while the flat part is called umi (sea); serrated dents are carved out on the shoulder of the front arch, for the rider to hold. However, the outer sides of the arches of this saddle are flat and there are no dents on the front. The edges of both arches are covered with gilt bronze and along them there are small bumps. These are the characteristics of the ancient style of saddles. On the other hand, it also has the traits of the medieval style, such as the three-dimensional shape of the hind arch. Overall, this saddle appears to show the transitional style between the ancient and the medieval ones.
The outer sides of the saddle are decorated using the ikakeji technique, sprinkling gold powder thickly all over. On them there are mother-of-pearl lion motifs in a variety of postures, such as raising its head and looking back. The expressions of the lions are drawn with kebori (lit. hairline engraving) technique on the thick turban shell plates. Each of them shows its own distinct character with a simple and natural touch that is not seen in the lion patterns in later times.
The combination of ikakeji and mother-of-pearl inlay was a very popular style of decoration from the late Heian period to the Kamakura period. Adding to this piece, Magakikiku Raden Makie Suzuri Bako (lacquered writing box decorated with laminae of mother of pearl depicting chrysanthemum flowers, flying birds and a bamboo hedge, owned by Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine, National Treasure) and Fusenryō Raden Makie Tebako (toiletry case with floating thread twill motif in mother-of-pearl inlay and makie, National Treasure) are also well-known examples of this style. The dazzling and imposing taste of the style is quite different from the lacquerware designs in the preceding Fujiwara period, which display the utmost elegance and subtlety.