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Netsuke thumbnail 2
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Not currently on display at the V&A

Netsuke

Ca. 1775 - 1850 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sash 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 hardwearing. 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 an octopus. The main inspiration for netsuke subjects was the natural world, most commonly animals, birds and sea creatures. Since fish and sea creatures traditionally played a large part in the Japanese diet, its frequency as a subject is understandable.

Both wood and ivory were traditionally the most widely used materials for making netsuke. This example is carved from ivory, which was an expensive luxury material. At the time this netsuke was carved, only ivory from the Indian elephant was used and was imported by Chinese and Dutch traders.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved ivory
Brief Description
Netsuke in the form of an octopus, carved ivory, Japan, ca. 1775-1850.
Physical Description
This netsuke, carved from ivory, is in the form of an octopus standing on a base, the underside of which is carved with two characters in relief suggesting it was intended to be used as a seal.
Dimensions
  • Height: 3.8cm
Style
Credit line
Dresden Bequest
Subject depicted
Summary
The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sash 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 hardwearing. 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 an octopus. The main inspiration for netsuke subjects was the natural world, most commonly animals, birds and sea creatures. Since fish and sea creatures traditionally played a large part in the Japanese diet, its frequency as a subject is understandable.



Both wood and ivory were traditionally the most widely used materials for making netsuke. This example is carved from ivory, which was an expensive luxury material. At the time this netsuke was carved, only ivory from the Indian elephant was used and was imported by Chinese and Dutch traders.
Collection
Accession Number
397-1904

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record createdApril 28, 2009
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