Saddle with Wave Design in
Mother-of-Pearl Inlay

Important Cultural Property

Japan, 13th century
H. 26.9cm, L. 42.4cm

This Japanese-style saddle with wave patterns in white mother-of-pearl on black-lacquered ground was originally owned by the Kuroda clan, lords of Chikuzen Province (present day Fukuoka Prefecture). According to tradition, Sasaki Takatsuna (d.1214), an ancestor of the Kuroda, used this saddle on his favorite horse named Ikezuki in an attack against Kajiwara Kagesue (1162-1200) during the Battle of Uji River on the twentieth day of the first month of 1184.
This stunning saddle is constructed from four wooden pieces: two cross panels for the seat, and front and back panels for the gullet and the cantle. The rich ornamentation on the gullet and cantle gives the entire saddle an overall sense of balance. The surfaces of the four panels are decorated with light, iridescent mother-of-pearl inlay, which beautifully captures the stylistic features of saddles from the Kamakura period. The wave design, known as "Heike waves," combines patterns of six thin, curved shell pieces to create a natural yet dynamic effect. Similar patterns can be found on the paper used for the Anthology of the Thirty-six Poets (Sanjurokunin shu, designated National Treasure, Nishi Honganji) and the Lotus Sutra of the Taira Family (Heike nokyo, National Treasure, Itsukushima Shrine), reflecting the aesthetic tastes of the imperial court during this period.

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