Helmet in the form of a Sea Conch Shell
Nagasone Tojiro Mitsumasa
iron with traces of lacquer and textiles
22.9 x 30.5 x 26.7 cm (9 x 12 x 10 1/2 in.)
The John Woodman Higgins Collection
Late sixteenth-century warlords and powerful generals wore flamboyant “extraordinary helmets” (kawari-kabuto) to distinguish themselves amidst uniformly armored footmen and brilliantly attired samurai. This masterpiece of metalwork must have belonged to one of the most important men in Japan at the time of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was so greatly admired that several derivative copies were made during the 1600s.
The helmet is sculpted like a sea-conch shell with a brim textured like ray-skin. The conch-shell is a symbol of worldly and religious authority. It was sounded by generals to marshal troops. It was also a symbol of Buddha’s voice and the preaching of Buddhist Law.