Monkey and Turtle Sculpture


Dark brown patina bronze sculpture of a monkey with shakudo eyes. Sitting, he is contemplating or examining attentively a small turtle placed on his right hand, held with care. The latter is removable. The monkey’s eyes seem to be illuminated by what he is observing through the shakudo.

In Japanese art, there are many representations of monkeys (paintings, sculpture, ceramics, etc.). The Japanese macaque or snow monkey is a symbol of wisdom. It is recognizable by its crimson face and buttocks. Its coat is very thick, and one of its particularities is the absence of a tail, resulting from a climatic adaptation to avoid frostbite. It enjoys spending time in hot springs (onsen). Mori Sosen (森狙仙?, 1747-1821), famous animal painter of the Edo period, is the undisputed master of the representation of Japanese macaques.

As for the turtle, it is an animal of good omen and a symbol of longevity. It appears in many legends. The pair of monkey and turtle can be associated with the legend of Urashima Taro, told in the Nihon-shoki, a book that dates back to 720 and relates the mythical origins of Japan.) In the legend, a man saves a baby turtle. To thank him, his mother invites him in her aquatic kingdom. Thus, our turtle and our monkey, both lovers of water, could make good friends after having met.

Signed below Shûzan (秀山).

Japan – Late Meiji Era (1868-1912), early 20th century

Monkey : height 8.3 in. (21 cm) – width 7.1 in. (18 cm) – depth 8.3 in. (21 cm)

Turtle : height 0.8 in. (2 cm) – width 1.6 in. (4 cm) – depth 0.8 in. (2 cm)