Dragon inro

Four compartment inrô decorated with a scene continuing round both sides depicting a dragon emerging from the clouds. The latter stormy and troubled are in golden taka maki-e lacquer, hira maki-e, kirigane aogai (mother-of-pearl) and nashi-ji. The dragon is in tortoise shell. All of this is done on a base of black lacquer. The interior is in nashi-ji lacquer.

The Dragon is very frequently depicted on all sorts of objects in Asian art. It’s the symbol of the emperor, who holds his position from the celestial forces. Whilst it possesses a tremendous destructive power, it’s primary purpose is one of protection. This incredible might is represented by two whiskers which also symbolize longevity and therefore by extension its immortality.

Often, the Dragon is also depicted flying through the sky, seemingly watching what is happening on Earth, beneath him or flying ever higher into the heavens. If a pearl is present, one which the Dragon is hunting, the symbolism is somewhat more complex. The most common meaning is that the firey jewel contains a sacred essence which grands the Dragon its power. It can also be seen as the symbol of wisdom. Combined with the allegory of the Emperor, this would mean he who governed his kingdom with wisdom. It’s also possible however that the pearl could also be a representation of the sun, moon, lightning or even a combination of all three and would therefore serve to illustrate the cosmic nature of the being. Again, this enforced the notion that the emperor governs in the name of the heavens.

The ojime is in hard stone.

Japan, Edo period (1603-1868)

Height : 2 ¾ ” – Width : 2 ½ ”

The manjû type netsuke is made out of wood. It depicts the face of the warrior Minamoto no Tametomo in armor with one of the demons of the island of Onigashima who is fruitlessly trying to tear the string of his bow. The other side represents a boat in the middle of sinking, struck by a single arrow of Tametomo. Depending on versions of the tale, it was a vessel of the Taira clan or one sent by the governor of Izu to stop Tametomo.

It can be noted that there’s a resurgence in interest for historical heroic figures during the 1870s, the period in which this netsuke was carved.

A very similar manjû is present in the collections of the university of Oxford, the Ashmolean Museum. It’s possible to see an image of this object in the work Manjû : Netsuke from the Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Joyce Seaman, David Battie, Ashmolean Museum, 2013, p. 214.

Japan, Meiji period (1868-1912), around 1870.

Height: 1 ½ ” – Width: 1 ¾ ”

 Minamoto no Tametomo (1139-1170) was one of the most famous archers of his time. According to legend, he was seven feet tall and a left arm far longer than his right, made him able to draw bows of an unparalleled length.

During the strife of the Hôgen war (1156), he demonstrated his strength and skill as an archer by shooting one arrow through the bodies of two enemies. He was eventually captured and exiled by Taïra Kiyomori to the island of Oshima in Izu but before he was sent the commander had the muscles of one of his arms cut so that he would be harmless. According to legend, the would healed and Tametomo after making himself lord of the isles of Izu contemplated rejoining the fight against his old foes. The governor of the Izu province was as a result tasked with stopping him but after his boat came within sight of the archer’s island, the latter stepped out onto the beach and fired a single arrow with such power that it pieced the ship’s hull and sunk it. Following this, he retired to his house, set it alight and committed sepokku. Some versions of the legend however consider this to be too simple an end to the hero. They state that the warrior was able to escape from Ôshima on a raft which floated near the Ryûkyû archipelago where he would become king and his descendants would found a royal dynasty which survives to this very day.

Other tales tell of his friendship with a stork and a wolf during his forced exile on the island of Kyûshû. On the island of Onigashima of the Ryûkyû, some say that he forced all of the demons to submit by demonstrating his superior physical strength.

Japanese artists have often represented Tametomo in art. Be it through his show of strength for the demons of Onigashima or by sinking the ship with a single arrow. He is also figured on Japanese banknotes of 1875.

Source : Kô-Ji Hô-Ten