Japan, mid 19th century - 5740
The composition depicts Oguri Hangan (小栗 判官), on his horse with his four hooves all placed on a gō (碁) board; the knight has two swords, while the animal is barded with saddle and saddle-cloth. Oguri Hangan (1398-1464) was the son of Mitsuhige, daimyo (feudal lord) of Oguri, in the Hitachi province, overthrown by Ashikaga no Mochiuji.
Many are the stories told on this character that became the plot of several novels. Often Oguri Hagan, like in this piece of the Lanfranchi collection, is depicted with his horse Onikage, while observing his enemies from the top of a mountain. It was said indeed that Onikage was able to hold his four hooves in the tight space of a gō board. The game of gō was very popular in Japan; the board is divided in 361 squares and 180 white pieces and 180 black pieces are used. The objective is to surround the opponent’s pieces.
Similar compositions characterize a large number of netsuke, mainly dated to the 19th century. Also this piece could be dated to the 1800s, in spite of some elements – the engraving which is very powerful, the simple effectiveness of the ink staining of some details and the coating that softens and brightens the features of the scene – are typical of the production of the 1700s (in particular in the Kyōto area).
This piece can be considered as an okimono-netsuke rather than only a netsuke because of the pedestal, whose edges would not adapt well to the contact with the delicate fabric of an attire.