Sword Guard (Tsuba) Depicting Eagle Preying on Monkey (猿捕食猛禽図鐔)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

About the work

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In this tsuba, or Japanese sword guard, a fierce eagle swoops down onto a monkey, who tries to hide in a tree. Eagles, like other birds of prey, often symbolize a martial spirit, a fitting subject for a sword. This tsuba was made in the 19th century. Around the same time, increasing contact with the West forced elites to rethink Japanese national identity. Eagles became a useful symbol for a modern military force. In Kawanabe Kyōsai’s Eagle Attacking a Monkey https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/54604, for example, the swooping eagle represents Japan’s emergence as an aspiring global power.

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