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Antique Japanese Shibiyama Netsuke
Jeweled Elephant
Coral, Horn and Pearl Inlays

Netsuke Signature: Masaharu, late 18th Century
Masaharu is listed in: Netsuke by Neil K. Davey Pub. Sotheby 1982
Netsuke: 112 Masterpieces: The Trumpf Collection Linden-Museum
Arnoldsche 2000 Netsuke A Guide for Collectors
Mary Louise O’Brien Pub. Tuttle, Tokyo 1965
h. 1.75 in.(4.5cm), w. 2 in.(5cm), d. 1.25 in.(3cm)
Condition: cracklines, o.a. very good

Masaharu is a well listed carver dating to the 18th-19th Century, known for his works in wood and ivory; a versatile master whose subjects included gods, human figures, animals and snakes. Finely carved and extravagantly decorated, an nearly identical Masaharu elephant is also in the collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in British Columbia.

 

Masaharu Jeweled Elephant Netsuke
Private Collection

The sacred white elephant is majestically caparisoned, the headstall embellished with pearl inlay and strands of hanging jewels which are repeated on the sides and back with inlays of gold, black, turquoise, quartz and ivory beads, the saddle cloth engraved with chrysanthemum flowers and stems. A deep golden patina enhances the surface; richly stained darks emphasize the graphic quality of the piece, which is well carved with lifelike expression. A single hole on the bottom with pearl sunburst border. Signed in a cartouche: Masaharu.

The White Elephant promised peace and abundance to the monarch who possessed such a rare animal. It would not be taken to war or ridden in procession, but was kept within the confines of the palace, entrusted to the care of senior officials, fed well, washed regularly, and worried over constantly. The last Burmese king, Thibaw, adorned his favorite white elephant with treasures--his forehead was decked with a spray of diamonds to ward off evil spirits; diamonds were set into each tusk. A gold plaque, inscribed with his titles, hung from his head - gold pendants hung from his ears. Four golden umbrellas protected him from the heat of the sun. Above his gold feeding trough, a mirror specially ordered from France was installed to reflect his splendor.

  
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