Netsuke sculptures are designed to attach the
tops of sagemono (containers) – which
contained personal items – to the obi (sashes)
used to tie the kimono or kosode. They are
therefore essentially utilitarian objects, but
since the 17th century craftsmen and artists
have taken great pleasure in carving ever
more complex and detailed themes onto
netsuke so that they are now recognised as
one of Japan's most notable indigenous art
forms. There are various different forms – over
and above the thousands of designs – of which
the in-the-round carving of kataborinetsuke
(lit. “sculpture netsuke) is the best-known. All
forms of ivory and bone are used.
Intricately detailed and anatomically correct,
this miniature skull is a stunning testament to
the remarkable skills of the carver. The is a
two character signature on the base of the
back of the skull, revealing that the sculptor
was deservedly proud of his fine workmanship.
This magnificent netsuke is a reminder of the
transience of life.