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Neil Holton Japanese Art

Nio Head

A large wood study of a Nio Head.

The clever carving is a partially finished sculpture, the concluding stages having just begun. The neck, hair and top knot are all depicted “in the rough”. The facial features are complete, though the veins in the forehead are only in the inception stage of the carving process. The glaring eyes are dry lacquered. The himotoshi are asymmetric, particularly functional.

Large Japanese Buddhist sculptures were traditionally made in segments from blocks of timber. These segments were often hollowed out to reduce weight. This segmentation would increase manoeuvrability during the sculptures construction. Another reason for this approach was in consideration of Japan’s climatic predisposition to natural disasters. If sculptures were damaged during these events, a replacement segment could be crafted, without the need to rebuild the whole sculpture.

A few of these Nio Heads are known. The British Museum has a marvellous finished article example. Please see; 100 miniature masterpieces from Japan. by Noriko Tsuchiya. Page 101. Having been lucky enough to have examined this piece on a handling session, I can testify to its label as a “Masterpiece”. I also valued the opportunity to study another example in my ownership, a decade ago. As with the British Museum example, they both displayed a consistent detail across the carving. However what we found striking in our previous example, was the artists ingenuity to present the Nio head broken, depicting a realistic representation of damage, possibly sustained during some climatic event. Both these aforementioned Netsuke were signed by Naito Koseki. Our example is anonymous, though can be confidently attributed to Koseki’s hand. The piece was donated by William Smith to the Town of Framingham in 1923, where it has been ever since. Thus we say with some certitude that the piece was made during Koseki’s middle life.

Provenance: Ex: William H. Smith Collection. 1853 - 1923.

Guide Price - £6,000