By Shuyusai Minkoku II, signed Minkoku 民谷
Japan, Edo (Tokyo), first half of 19th century, Edo period (1615-1868)
The Chinese Daoist philosopher seated on a straw mat, the base carved from a triangular section of the tusk, his right arm resting on a low table, the other on his bent knee, the face with a contemplative expression, as he wonders about the true nature of existence after having awoken from his famous butterfly dream. The details enhanced with sumi-e (ink). The underside with a single himotoshi and the signature MINKOKU.
LENGTH 3.7 cm
Condition: Very good condition, minor surface wear, natural age cracks.
Provenance: European collection.
Zhuang Zhou, commonly known as Zhuangzi (Japanese: Soshi), was an influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BC during the Warring States period. He is credited with writing one of the foundational texts of Daoism, known by his name, the Zhuangzi. The most famous of all Zhuangzi stories – Zhuang Zhou Dreams of Being a Butterfly – appears at the end of the second chapter, On the Equality of Things: “Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.” (Zhuangzi, chapter 2 [Watson translation])
A netsuke of the same subject by Masakazu is illustrated in Sagemonoya (2000) Netsuke That Never Left Japan, p. 21, no. 44.
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