Japan, 18th century, Edo period (1615-1868)
Finely carved with the immortal standing with one hand held behind his back, the other holding the tip of a ken sword. He is wearing long flowing robes with skillfully carved and darkly stained folds, opening in front to reveal his ribs and belly. His well-carved face with a cheerful expression as he laughs at the two-horned three-clawed dragon sinuously writhing around his body, looking up toward the sword tip. The back with asymmetrical himotoshi.
HEIGHT 8.7 cm
Condition: Very good condition, appealingly worn, one foot with old restoration to the toes.
Provenance: Ex-collection Joe Kurstin. Dr. M. Joseph ‘Joe’ Kurstin (1931-2021) was a prominent Miami ophthalmologist who arguably built one of the greatest netsuke collections of all time. He was known by netsuke and inro lovers worldwide and made many lifelong friends in this tight-knit community. He published several books and articles on the subject and generously lent his collection for exhibitions at the Yale University Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Epcot Center at Disney World, and The Tobacco and Salt Museum, Tokyo.
Ryo Tohin is the Japanese name for the Daoist immortal Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals in Chinese mythology. He is often pictured riding on a cloud or a dragon as a reference to the legend that Ryo Tohin used his famous sword to subdue a dragon. He is also frequently depicted crossing water on his sword. The present netsuke depicts him holding the tip of a ken sword, which relates to depictions of male dragons with tail tips in the form of swords or spears. It thus appears that the immortal has stolen the tip of the dragon’s tail and is now taunting the beast with it. It is also interesting to note that the immortal’s right hand is not seen, shrouded in his robe behind his back, and perhaps he is also hiding a tama pearl from the poor dragon.
Compare a painted wood netsuke by Shuzan, depicting the same subject, described as “a warrior holding a gem in the left hand, a sword in the right, defying a dragon”, illustrated in Joly, Henri L. (1966) The W. L. Behrens Collection, Part 1, Netsuke, pl. XIII, no. 675.
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