I was reading an article a while back that spoke of Jesuit priests who were about to have an audience with the Qianlong Emperor, and as was the custom at the time to offer a special gift to the Emperor upon introduction, their gift was a set of ebony chairs. It was considered an insult when greeting any level of Chinese or Japanese nobility to not offer anything but the finest and rarest of offerings.
When I purchased the Ranma I was told that it was a sixteenth century work, however a gentleman who’d worked in Japan for a few decades as a missionary and worked for a Japanese connoisseur of Fine Asian Arts told me it was more likely early 17th century. I was not overly annoyed at this minor transgression, as I began to study early Edo period Japan….the time of the great Japanese Samurai Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa and Edo Castle. Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Tokugawa shogunate here. It was the residence of the shōgun and location of the shogunate, and also functioned as the military capital during the Edo period of Japanese history.Various fires over the centuries damaged or destroyed parts of the castle, Edo and the majority of its buildings being made of timber.
The Tokugawa period, also called Edo period, (1603–1867), the final period of traditional Japan, was a time of internal peace, political stability, and economic growth under the shogunate (military dictatorship) founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Was this a gift carved and skillfully joined by a Master Artisan for the great Ieyasu Tokugawa? The fact that it was not simply ebony, rather Gilt Ebony would have one believing that this could be the case. The carved poly-chrome decoration, that being fierce Kirin facing off against a backdrop of giant Chrysanthemums both revered Imperial Family symbols would also solidify that belief. Lastly is the most compelling fact that this Ranma is the survivor of a fire. Of all the cities of Japan Edo, also known as the ‘city of fires’ was, given the fact it was made almost entirely of timber, was by far the most notorious. It really does not require much imagination, to place oneself on the Great Hall of Edo Castle with among the wall hangings would this Ranma not have had a special place?
Rescued from a fire( the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 killed 107,000 people….how do we know? I had a certified restorer of antiquities give the Ranma the ‘once over’. Her comments included the fact that over the centuries the piece had undergone numerous smaller restorations, most assuredly attempting to repair the separation in some cases of connected pieces of joinery, as there are quite literally over 100 areas where parts of the whole were skillfully joined by the hands of a Master Artisan craftsman, so wondrously joined as to challenge the human eye. Look for example at how tight the precision joinery is on the Kirin….so tight in fact that they are still tightly in one piece.The whole of the Ranma at one time was baked black by the fire, however at some point realizing the historical significance of the piece it was systematically and sympathetically cleaned, thus restoring in part to effect the brilliant coloring and gilding of this Noble’s Ranma.
I had a friend over who had just come back from a tour in Japan, and had not mentioned that the Ranma was a recent acquisition. Upon entering my home and seeing the piece, he was literally quite speechless. Being somewhat surprised at his reaction he went on to tell me that during his tour, one of the highlights was his visit to the Japanese IMPERIAL Museum in Tokyo where he saw a couple of virtually identically crafted Ranma with different motifs and symbols….a nice surprise. What was even nicer when he approached the Ranma he paid particular attention to the central gilt copper etched plates. As I had not really looked closely at these flowered plates he pointed out the fact that the TOP plate featured a Single large Chrysanthemum and the BOTTOM a Pair of the same, both obvious Imperial symbols.
The measurements given reflect the actual inner framed Gilt Ebony Ranma. Apart from the major clearing away of most of the carbon coating the piece the Ranma perhaps 50-75 years ago had an additional exterior frame utilized to support and shore up that of the original frame which is an integral part of the piece. The original exterior ‘frame’ on which the carved joinery to the interior is attached, as it was NOT poly chromed best reflects the true age of the Ranma, as the wood can be best described as in a state of advanced degradation bordering on disintegration. There are photos that bear witness to this process.
The Ranma in total with the exterior frame measures 81 inches in width, by 41 inches in Height and again is about 6-7 inches in depth and weighs about 170 LBS. I will be looking into the cost of preparing/packing the Ranma for safe shipping. - POR