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  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1825-1875 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Ipposai (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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 group of animals.

Katabori netsuke are often regarded as miniature sculptures. Although netsuke were designed to be suspended from a sash and, as such, were conceived in the round, many could stand on a flat surface, as in this example, which portrays all 12 animals of the East Asian zodiac. It was designed to be seen from a particular viewpoint but shows the minute attention to detail in the round so typical of netsuke. On the bottom of the piece, the paws, hooves and genitalia are realistically shown.

The animals of the East Asian zodiac consist of the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar. In a recurring cycle of 12, each animal is assigned to a year in a specific order. A netsuke portraying any or all of these animals was particularly associated with New Year festivities.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


ca. 1825-1875 (made)


Ipposai (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory


Height: 3.5 cm

Descriptive line

Netsuke, ivory carved with animals of the zodiac, signed Ipposai, ca. 1825 - 1875





Subjects depicted




Collection code


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