Gyokuzan - 5696

Sesshu, Tokyo school

late 19th - early 20th century
ivory   coral   morther of pearl  
2,7x2,8x2,5 cm
玉山 (Gyokuzan)
2005 bequest Maria Taglietti Lanfranchi
Inv. 5696

The composition, made in various materials (ivory, mother-of-pearl, coral, horn and metal), depicts a kneeled teenager, with his hands tied behind his back. At his feet there is a tray with two small mice. The two himotoshi holes, sheathed in metal, are placed in the lower part of the piece. Nearby, in a red lacquered plaque the signature Gyokuzan (玉山) is carved.

The scene refers to an episode of the celebrated painter Sesshū Tōyō (1420-1506), the most distinguished exponent of "ink painting"(suibokuga, 水墨画) genre of the Chinese tradition. It is told that during his apprenticeship as painter monk at the Hōfuku-ji temple, when he was only twelve years old, he was tied to a pillar because of a punishment for disobedience. Despite that, the young artist succeeded in painting a few mice with a paint brush hold with his toes, and with his tears; when the abbot came to free him he jumped up with surprise: the painted mice had become alive and were running away.

It is not possible to associate the carver of this netsuke with anyone of the many known artists who used the art name Gyokuzan, but the use of different materials in combination with ivory and the predilection for non traditional polychrome cladding are very similar to those of Yasuaki (保明), netsukeshi who was active in Tokyo between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.