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Antique Japanese Netsuke
Exhaling Soul

Netsuke Signature: Mitsutoshi, early 19th Century
Recorded in: Netsuke, A Comprehensive Study Based on
the M.T. Hindson Collection by Neil K. Davey, #1648

H 1.75 in.(4.5cm.), W 1.5 in.(4cm.), D 1 in.(2.5cm.)
Condition: excellent

Mitsutoshi is held in high regard though lesser known because there are few examples in the west. In this rare netsuke we see the young Tekkai exhaling his spirit, meticulously represented as a tiny venerable bearded figure holding a staff and standing on a cloud that has formed from the monk’s breath, all drawn in one delicate waving arc. The netsuke is sinuously and intricately carved throught in round. The face of Tekkai is deftly modeled, presenting a full cheeked and robust appearance, the eyes in a smile, lips parted as he effortlessly extrudes his spirit in a winding vapor that resolves into the traveling soul. Finely detailed engraving in the garments is accomplished with a controlled firmness.

Tekkai Exhaling Soul Netsuke
Sold To Private Collection

This extraordinary carving illustrates the supernatural powers of Tekkai, a monk who could exhale his soul that it might travel unhampered by his body. The story tells us that Tekkai was summoned to the bedside of his dying mother, and fearing he might be late, he left his body in the care of his apprentice, warning that it must not be left for more than seven days or he would not be able to re-enter it. His attendant, fearing he would not return, abandoned the body. On his return, the soul of Tekkai found no body to inhabit, but passing the river, he spied the fresh corpse of a lame beggar and entered and animated that body, in which the philosopher lived for the remainder of his life. Without the healthy body he had possessed, his essence was yet so strong that he never lost his spirit and his consciousness of compassion.
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