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  • blog imageToday we welcome author Noriko Tsuchiya to our blog to talk about her book Netsuke: 100 Miniature Masterpieces from Japan. Noriko is also the curator in the Japan gallery at The British Museum. She has five fascinating netsuke stories to share, so get ready and give her a warm welcome!

    In Japan netsuke were used to fasten a man's sash, an integral part of Japanese costume. Skilfully worked, these miniature carvings are of great artistic value, but they also provide a window into Japanese culture and society. The book brings together one hundred of the most beautiful and interesting netsuke and uncovers the stories behind them, featuring stunning photography.

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    Aubergine with Mount Fuji and a hawk

    Unsigned

    Boxwood, partially lacquered, mid 1800s. H. 5.2 cm

    British Museum HG.215

    Given by Professor John and Mrs Anne Hull Grundy

    This clever, playful netsuke when closed represents a round Japanese aubergine, but once opened into two halves it reveals Mount Fuji and a hawk. The subject is based on a Japanese proverb about the first dream of the New Year, ‘One: Fuji, two: hawk, three: aubergine’ (ichi Fuji, ni taka, san nasubi). Traditionally, it is believed that the contents of the first dream will foretell the luck of the dreamer during the coming year. It is considered particularly good fortune to dream of (in order) Mount Fuji, a hawk and then an aubergine.

    blog imageDutchman holding a cockerel

    Unsigned

    Ivory, about 1780. H. 11.8 cm

    British Museum F.558

    Given by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks

    During Most of the Edo period (1615-1868), Japan adopted a policy of relative national isolation. Dutch merchants were the only European permitted to live in Japan, and they were confined to Dejima, a small man-made island in Nagasaki Bay. It would have been rare for a Japanese person to see a foreigner, so the Dutch became the object of great curiosity and a perfect subject for netsuke carvers. Most Dutchmen were portrayed with set characteristics: a large nose, curly red hair, long buttoned-up coat and wide-brimmed hat. The ivory Dutchman pictured here holds a fighting cock; the sport was a popular entertainment at that time.

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    Meditating skeleton

    Unsigned

    Silver set in stag antler, late 1800s. H. 4.2 cm; W. 4 cm

    British Museum HG.290

    Given by Professor John and Mrs Anne Hull Grundy

    This eccentric netsuke portrays a skeleton in a meditative pose with its hands clasped in prayer and feet placed together. The netsuke employs an unusual combination of materials, silver at the fron and stag antler at the back. The motif of meditating skeleton has been depicted in various artistic forms in Japan, evoking the fleetingness of life. Although there are many interpretations of the subject, it might simply be a humorous statement on the human fixation with earthly life and the transitory nature of existence.

    blog imageSleeping rat By Masanao of Kyoto

    Ivory, Kyoto, late 1700s. W. 5.7 cm

    British Museum F.782

    Given by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks

    This is one of star netsuke in the British Museum collection. It was carved by a great netsuke carver, Masanao, who was active in Kyoto in the late 18th century. It is so realistically carved that some people even say that it is not sleeping but it is dead! However, if we look at it closer, we can almost feel its fur and we can also see its paws clenched as if in the middle of a dream. This netsuke was probably worn by a man born in the year of the rat, or it may have served as a talisman for attracting prosperity, since the rats are associated with Daikoku, one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune.

    blog imageGoldfish By Masanao I of Ise (1815-1890)

    Boxwood, with eyes inlaid in light and dark horn, Ise, early 1800s

    W. 5.5 cm

    British Museum F.1074

    Given by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks

    This ugly – yet adorable – goldfish with puffy face is called the ‘lion-head goldfish’ or ranchū, and has been highly regarded and specially bred in Japan. Keeping goldfish as pets became popular among the general population from the later Edo period (1615-1868). At that time, a glass bowl would have been a luxury and quite expensive, so goldfish were usually kept in a wooden basin or a ceramic bowl. Therefore, they were viewed from above, and not from the side as they usually are today. Because the fish were viewed in this way, the most appreciated goldfish were ranchū, and they were referred to as the ‘king of goldfish’ mostly because they look like the shape of a koban or gold coin when viewed from above.

  • blog image

    At the beginning of the 1995 football season, Hans van der Meer set out to take a series of football photographs that avoided the clichéd traditions of modern sports photography. In an attempt to record the game in its original form, he sought matches at the bottom end of the amateur leagues. Preferring neutral lighting, framing and camera angles, he chose to pull back from the central subject of the pitch, locating the playing field and its unfolding action within a specific landscape and context.

    Van der Meer began by focusing on sites within the Netherlands and later his European odyssey took him from small towns in the remote regions of Europe to the fringes of the major conurbations of Greece, Finland, England, France, Germany, and more.

    This isn't our World Cup fever talking... there is some incredibly touching about Van De Meer's work and we just can't take our eyes off it.

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  • New German art books

    Wed, 17 Feb 2010 04:27

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    The Financial Times looks at some new German art books and the growing importance and renown of the German art scene:

    German art differs crucially from that of other western European nations in two respects. First, Germany never experienced a golden age of painting comparable to the Italian Renaissance, the Spain of Velazquez and Goya, the Low Countries of Van Eyck and Rembrandt, or France from the 18th century to early modernism. As a result, Germany from the age of Durer onwards suffered an inferiority complex about its national art. Its artists tended to compensate by not risking formal innovation, and favouring instead the high emotionalism that is a legacy of medieval gothic.

    Second, that insecurity was magnified and confused by the rupture with its cultural past that Germany alone endured in the 20th century. Not even Stalin in Russia -- whose socialist realism consciously looked back to 19th-century practitioners such as Ilya Repin -- imposed so catastrophic a break on the continuity of visual culture as the Nazis did by attacking "degenerate" art in Germany. After the war an essentially fatherless generation emerged that had to reinvent German art, while the nation -- and the rest of the world -- continued to be ambivalent about historic German painting. Only in the global 21st century is this changing. Significant German artists are now enjoying their first-ever retrospectives in the US; German museums in turn are taking note (more...)

  • We sell loads of embroidery, knitting and other handicrafts books here at The Book Depository, so I thought that some of you would most certainly be interested in this fabulous glow in the dark embroidery thread
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