Ca. 1775 - 1850 (made) 18th or 19th century (made)


Height: 3.8 cm

397-1904 EAS

Netsuke in the form of an octopus, carved ivory, Japan, ca. 1775-1850.

This netsuke, carved from ivory, is in the form of an octopus standing on a base, the underside of which is carved with two characters in relief suggesting it was intended to be used as a seal.

The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sash by a silk cord. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hardwearing. Above all, they had to have the means for attaching a cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated being the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of an octopus. The main inspiration for netsuke subjects was the natural world, most commonly animals, birds and sea creatures. Since fish and sea creatures traditionally played a large part in the Japanese diet, its frequency as a subject is understandable. Both wood and ivory were traditionally the most widely used materials for making netsuke. This example is carved from ivory, which was an expensive luxury material. At the time this netsuke was carved, only ivory from the Indian elephant was used and was imported by Chinese and Dutch traders.

Dresden Bequest

Location: Japan, room 45, case 8

View this object on the V&A website