Two shishi - 5587
This netsuke, whose surface is darkened beacuse of ink staining, depicts two shishi, male and female, playing with each other. The himotoshi are naturally obtained by three spaces between the two animals. The netsuke, dated to the late 19th century, is clearly inspired by models of the past.
Shishi, 獅子 (lion), or karashishi (chinese lion), is the Japanese name of an animal that looks more like the Tibetan dogs with a thick mane or to the Chinese shizi, rather than to real lions, which do not inhabit oriental Asia. This fantastic creature is considered as the protector or Buddhist faith: statues that represent it, usually in pairs, were located outside temples for protection.
In China it is considered a symbol of strength, courage and tenacity. A lion that plays with a sphere, symbol of the Pure Emptiness, signifies an Empire at peace, while an old and young lion that play together symbolize high positions for the Empire. The lion is often portrayed with a peony (botan,牡丹), the queen of flowers. In Japan, during the Heian period (794-1185), the custom of using lions as protective symbols spread also to Shintoist sanctuaries: in this case however the pair was constituted by a shishi of Chinese origin and a similar one, the komainu, “Korean dog”, that differs from the first one because it has a horn on his head.
In the Lanfranchi collection a special use of the shishi as a seal type netsuke can be seen.