By Kano Tessai (1845-1925), signed Tessai 鐵哉 with kakihan
Japan, Nara, late 19th to early 20th century
Finely carved as a Hannya mask with a fierce expression, the mouth wide open with outstretched tongue and rows of teeth flanked by sharp fangs, the large bulging eyes pierced, the horns curved towards the chin, the hair neatly incised and parted in the center, all painted with polychrome dry lacquer (kanshitsu) to simulate wear. The mask certainly represents Hannya at a later stage of her demonic transformation, appearing completely enveloped in madness. Signed TESSAI with a kakihan to the back of the lower jaw.
HEIGHT 5 cm
Condition: Very good condition with only minor surface wear, possibly light scratches or minuscule nicks but any significant wear on the piece is intentional by the artist.
Provenance: Sotheby’s New York, 3 November 1974, lot 237. Then European collection P. Jacquesson, acquired from Barry Davies, 1 August 1997.
Kano Tessai was an innovative sculptor and a prolific maker of netsuke, as well as kiseruzutsu, mostly in cypress wood, although he also used pine and boxwood. Many of his mask netsuke were faithful copies of the thirty-one Gigaku masks held in the Shoso-in depository in Nara, some dating from the Kamakura Period (1185-1333).
This appears to be the only mask netsuke depicting Hannya recorded by Tessai and is arguably his masterpiece. It is unclear whether this design was copied faithfully from an old Noh mask or created with artistic freedom. Likely it was both. Some features such as the curved horns and outstretched tongue are unusual for Hannya masks and perhaps indicate some artistic freedom to enhance the masks’ demonic and crazed appearance.
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