Bronze tortoise, by Murata Seimin

From Japan
Late 18th - early 19th century AD

From the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868), craftsmen started to make okimono, or ornamental objects, which would be placed in the tokonoma alcove and admired purely for their beauty and the skill of the craftsmanship. This lifelike tortoise is an example, although it may actually have been used as a paper-weight. Seimin (died 1937) was particularly famed for his tortoises. This one is signed by the maker. His other small-scale works included flower vases and other ornaments.

However, Seimin is chiefly known for his precise bronze sculpture using the lost-wax method. A cast is first made by modelling the statue in wax over a core. The wax model is then covered in clay which hardens to form a cast; the wax is melted away and molten bronze poured between clay and core and allowed to cool, after which most of the core is removed. Seimin cast the 500 arhats (disciples of the Buddha) at Kenchōji Temple in Kyoto.

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More information


L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Length: 14.700 cm

Museum number

Asia JA 1954.4-17.6


Given by E. S. de Beer from the collection of his late aunt, Mrs A.F. Barden


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