The fascinating world of Netsuke

Published by Supein Nihonto on

Netsuke monkey II ivory

Origin and history of Netsuke

Netsuke are small carved sculptures originating from Japan that have captivated collectors and art enthusiasts for centuries. These objects, though small in size, are imbued with history, culture, and artisanal skill.
The term “netsuke” derives from the Japanese words “ne” (root) and “tsuke” (to attach). Their origin dates back to the 17th century, during the Edo period (1603-1868), when traditional Japanese clothing, such as kimonos, lacked pockets. The Japanese needed a practical and decorative way to carry their personal items, such as tobacco, medicine, or seals, which they did by hanging small pouches or boxes from their obi (belt). Netsuke were used as counterweights to prevent these items from falling.
Over time, netsuke evolved from simple practical tools to intricate works of art. Artisans began carving elaborate designs in materials like ivory, wood, and ceramics, incorporating elements from nature, mythology, and everyday life. Each netsuke is unique, reflecting the skill and creativity of the artisan who created it.

Notable Netsuke examples at Supein Nihonto

At the Supein Nihonto online store, we offer a variety of netsuke that stand out not only for their beauty but also for their historical and artistic value. Below, we explore some notable examples that may interest collectors and enthusiasts.

Netsuke Blind Massage Ivory

The Netsuke Blind Massage Ivory is an exquisite piece capturing a touching and significant scene. This sculpture depicts a blind masseur, a common figure in ancient Japanese society. Blind masseurs, known as “anma,” played an important role in traditional Japanese medicine. Blindness, far from being a hindrance, was considered a blessing in this profession, as it was believed to enhance the sense of touch.
This piece is carved from ivory, a prized material that allows for impressive detail. The artisan has captured the serene expression on the masseur’s face, as well as the folds of his clothing and the posture of his body. This netsuke is not only a work of art but also a tribute to a revered profession and a representation of human resilience.

Netsuke blind massage ivory

Netsuke Elder Seal Ivory

The Netsuke Elder Seal Ivory is another masterpiece notable for its complexity and symbolism. It depicts a wise elder holding a seal, an object of great importance in Japanese culture. Seals, known as “hanko” or “inkan,” are used instead of signatures and are essential in daily life, from business transactions to personal documents.
This netsuke is meticulously carved from ivory, showing the elder with an expression of serenity and wisdom. The attention to detail is remarkable, from the wrinkles on his face to the texture of his clothing and the intricate design of the seal he holds. This piece is a celebration of wisdom and the importance of tradition in Japanese society.

Netsuke Elder seal ivory

Netsuke Hannya and Samurai Ivory

The Netsuke Hannya and Samurai Ivory is a fascinating piece combining elements of Japanese mythology and history. The Hannya mask is an icon of Noh theater, representing a jealous and vengeful female spirit who has turned into a demon. This figure is a powerful symbol in Japanese culture, embodying both beauty and rage.
The samurai, on the other hand, is an emblematic historical figure, representing honor, loyalty, and martial prowess. In this netsuke, the artisan has captured a dramatic moment between the samurai and the Hannya spirit, depicting an interaction filled with tension and energy.
Carved from ivory, this piece stands out for its dynamism and detail. The Hannya mask is sculpted with a fierce and detailed expression, while the samurai is depicted in a combative pose, with his armor and sword meticulously carved. This netsuke is a vivid representation of Japan’s rich cultural heritage and complex narratives.

Netsuke Hannya and samurai ivory

Netsuke are much more than mere ornaments; they are windows to the past, each telling a unique story and revealing aspects of Japanese life and culture. At Supein Nihonto, we are proud to offer a selection of netsuke that exemplify artisanal mastery and the profound cultural significance of these small sculptures.
As you explore our collection, you can appreciate the attention to detail and rich symbolism each piece holds. Whether you are an experienced collector or someone looking for a unique piece to start your collection, our netsuke offer a tangible connection to the history and art of Japan.

Categories: Netsuke


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