shishi displays the high artistry of Edo style in its conception--the head abruptly
turned to face a challenge, abundant balls of fur piled into swirling masses,
the teeth individually defined, the doglike ears, inset horn eyes, all masterfully
carved from the tip of a quality tusk, complete and impressive in its lineage
and stylistic integrity.
shishi was carved during the 70-year period of 1780-1850, when fine quality works
were produced in substantial quantities by artists in Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo (Tokyo)
where there was access to ivory. The major carvers of the Tokyo School such as
Komei and Yoshida Homei are recognized and recorded and the works of their schools
highly prized. Artists outside these population centers used boxwood or cherrywood,
narwhal, boar's tusk, amber, stag antler, pottery, bamboo etc, but none of these
materials provided the range of expression available to artists working in ivory,
which with its fine grain can be cut in any direction and allows unrestricted
undercutting and a glossy, translucent finish. The meeting of this material with
the culture of Edo resulted in netsuke that were dramatic, eccentric and flamboyant
as exemplified in this piece, compared to regional styles which tended to be more
traditional and reserved.
are the fabulous protective lions always associated with the Buddhist deity Monju,
the Japanese name for Maitreya. The open mouth along with the ball, or Tama, indicate
a male shishi. The tama is a symbol of Buddhist wisdom that brings light into
the darkness and possesses the power to fulfill every wish.