Length: 5.500 cm
Height: 3.600 cm (kirin)
Length: 5.500 cm (rat)
kirin: Gift of Sir A.W.
Bird's claw: Bequeathed by Oscar Raphael
Asia JA F782
Ivory netsuke: a rat, a kirin and a bird's claw
Late 18th century AD
Carved by Masanao, one of the leading masters of the late 18th century
The tiny sleeping rat, with its perfectly carved feet was probably given as a gift for someone born in the Year of the Rat, or worn during the Year of the Rat. The Japanese borrowed the Chinese custom of grouping years into cycles of twelve years. Each year was dedicated to a particular animal which gave its characteristics to people born in its year. 'Rats' were traditionally thought of as happy-go-lucky, adventurous types, very attached to their family. The animals of the Asian zodiac were very popular and netsuke carvers probably made a lot of money out of these tiny animal figures.
were also very popular subjects for
kirin had a human face
and beard, two horns, a domed lump on its forehead, four horns down
its back, the tail of a
Netsuke carvers often chose unusual subjects, such as the bird's claw on the right, with its realistically scaly surface. Masanao's signature can be seen bottom left.
L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)
R. Barker and L. Smith, Netsuke: the miniature sculptu (London, The British Museum Press, 1976)