Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.



  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    18th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and stained ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Dresden Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Japan, Room 45, The Toshiba Gallery, case 8

The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sashes by a silk cord. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hard-wearing. Above all, they had to have the means for attaching a cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated being the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of a grazing horse.

The most widely used materials for making netsuke were traditionally ivory or wood. Throughout the Edo Period (1615-1868), ivory from the Indian elephant was imported by Chinese and Dutch traders. Owing to the cost of the material, a small piece of ivory would be used to maximum effect. The subjects of netsuke were often originally suggested by the shape of a particular material, as with this grazing horse. In time, however, this particular subject became a standard one used by numerous carvers over a long period of time.

The great popularity of the horse as a netsuke subject is also connected to its being one of the 12 animals of the East Asian zodiac, which derives from Chinese cosmology. In a recurring cycle, each animal is assigned to a year in a specific order. The traditional order is: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar. A netsuke portraying any of these animals was particularly associated with the New Year festivities of the appropriate year, but could also be used at any time during that particular year, and again 12 years later in accordance with the cycle.

Physical description

This carved and stained ivory netsuke is in the form of a grazing horse with the tethering rope lying over its body in a haphazard manner.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


18th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved and stained ivory


Height: 5.6 cm

Descriptive line

Netsuke in the form of a horse, carved ivory, Japan, 18th century.




Carving; Staining

Subjects depicted





East Asia Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.