This object is a favourite of former SJA president Henk Hoogsteden, who is a collector of netsuke and inro.
This boxwood netsuke was made around 1770 by the famous Kyoto netsuke carver Izumiya Tomotada. It shows a reclining ox with a rope halter around its head and down its back.
‘I obtained this netsuke in 2008. With its fine rich brown patina and incredible detail, it is a beautiful example of the Kyoto school. The hair is minutely engraved; the bold head has eyes inlaid in dark horn. The animal’s underside is beautifully curved and signed.
Tomotada is mentioned in the Sōken Kishō, an eighteenth-century reference book on sword fittings with an appendix that deals with netsuke. He was famous for this particular subject.
The ox, which regularly occurs in netsuke and inro, not only because it is one of the animals of the East Asian zodiac, but also because it is associated with the story of the court minister Sugawara Michizane (845–903). He was wrongly accused of a plot against the emperor and subsequently banished to the island of Kyushu, where, so the story goes, he died of grief. In order to bring his body back to Kyoto, it was put in an ox-drawn carriage. On the way, however, the ox suddenly lowered itself on the road and refused to go any further. Michizane was buried at that particular spot. After the emperor had cleared Michizane’s name, a Shinto shrine was erected in his honour in Kitano in 947. Since then, many Shinto shrines have sculptures of reclining oxen in their precincts.
I am very happy to have this ox in my netsuke collection, because it is an exquisite example of the workmanship of Tomotada and of the Kyoto school of netsuke carving.’
Netsuke, boxwood, Izumiya Tomotada, 1770, Kyoto.