Yoshimasa - 5555
The okimono-netsuke depicts the Seven Gods of Fortune (Shichifukujin, 七福神): most of the figures are on a bridge, except Hotei who has already crossed it, and Jurojin who is about to do it; in the water there is only an oni (鬼, demon), figure who is joining the party. At the base of the piece there is a unique hole surrounded by a petal decoration, nearby is the signature Yoshimasa (美正), in red ink, bordered by an oval reserve.
The Seven Gods of Fortune are the most popular divinities of Japan, worshipped mostly by artisans and merchants. They are often represented on board of the Treasure Boat (Takarabune) that, according to tradition, lands with his heavenly passengers on the Japanese coast the first day of the new year. The group – composed by deities originating from China, India and Japan, belonging to Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto – was defined during the Edo period (1615-1868). It is formed by Ebisu, Daikoku, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Hotei, Jurojin and Fukurokuju. Each one has a particular virtue: Ebisu was appreciated for his industriousness and protection of fishermen, Daikoku for longevity and wealth, Benzaiten for kindness, love and beauty, Bishamonten for courage, Hotei for generosity and happiness, Jurojin for longevity and wisdom, Fukurokujin for dignity and longevity.
The stylistic characteristics of this piece allows to place Yoshimasa among the artists active between late 19th century and early 20th, probably belonging to the Tokyo school, engaged in the production of carvings for foreign collectors. Their netsuke, less and less functional and more and more okimono, were very intricate and realistic compositions. The Lanfranchi collection owns another piece signed Yoshimasa, which has Jurojin with the deer as a subject.