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Ivory Tusk Utilization-an example

Discussions and analysis of Elephant Ivory
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AFNetsuke
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Postby AFNetsuke » Tue Oct 29, 2013 12:09 am

I acquired this 18th century 10.1cm standing figure of a Chinese man in ivory from one of our INS member-dealers, Xanadu, at the SF Fall Antiques Show over the weekend. He appears to be happily dancing away while gazing upward with an expression of "where am I". Does anyone know whether this portrayal of the hands with one up, one down with index fingers pointing downward indicates anything in particular? Now to why I am posting this under Materials:

It is long and slender, obviously, and mostly triangular appearing in cross-section. However, it not only lays flat on three sides but also flat on the front directly face-down. The piece narrows from top to bottom and the feet twist slightly to the right side. The flat back is actually slightly convex not only from side to side but also (to a lesser degree) from top to bottom.

I believe this piece was constructed from a less desirable piece of ivory taken from the base of the tusk which is mostly hollow. The back was adjacent to the hollow area and follows its curve and the tusk had a diameter of about 4 or 5 inches at the level of the shoulder blades based on this curvature. The ivory dealer likely produced a number of trapezoidal or triangular slivers of ivory similar to the one used here. The feet (shoes) twist slightly to the side in order to have enough material to keep them from looking too stubby. The feet were from the portion of tusk closer to its base so they present a narrower profile than the head which was further out on the tusk where the material starts to thicken. The darker stain on the tips of the shoes is probably the result of being from the outermost portion of the tusk. The left face and chin may have shown the same material stain if not so worn. I will even venture to say it was cut from the bottom of the tusk based on the slight curvature from bottom to top of the back and widening of the material. If you are having a hard time visualizing this please refer to "Netsuke", the Bushell Collection book from the LACMA which shows the sections of tusk that were typically cut and think about how this piece would fit into the most basal area.

What does this matter? Only that ivory was a precious material and early carvers utilized it to obtain the maximum volumn in their carvings without compromising design. Simply put, it shows their creativity. It's a delightful piece with a humorous laughing face. Eye pupils are inlaid as is a single button in dark horn


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Alan

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NetsukeManiac
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Postby NetsukeManiac » Tue Oct 29, 2013 2:04 am

Alan, maybe he's laughing/pointing at his funny looking shoes? :D The large himotoshi looks to have some serious cord wear as if it were actually used as a netsuke. How tall is this piece?

SC

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Vlad
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Postby Vlad » Tue Oct 29, 2013 2:06 am

I absolutely love it, Alan! Great job! And the face expression is something I have not seen before! Congratulations on another good old piece!8-)
"Man sieht nur, was man weiß" - "One sees only what one knows". Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

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chonchon
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Postby chonchon » Tue Oct 29, 2013 2:27 am

Thanks for the detailed thoughts on the construction of this delightful fellow. "Waste not want not", a good example of economy in artistry. There is a great Japanese word "Mottainai" which roughly means leave no waste, but includes the sense that it would be an dangerous insult to the gods.
Piers

Size is something.

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AFNetsuke
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Postby AFNetsuke » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:22 am

Thanks for the comments, guys. Dave, it's 10.1cm tall. Did you mean the shoes are out of style for a Chinese man? The large himotoshi was in Marsha's opinion heavily worn from having the cord pass around the bridge that separates it from the smaller one but I really think it was broken at some point and subsequently worn down by the cord being secured that way (rather than passing both cords through the small hole and knotting the ends which would then be seated in the large cavity.
Vlad, I assume you agree with my assessment of how the ivory was cut from the tusk? You seem to have a special sense of this from your prior posting showing how the "rind" can show up in various locations on a netsuke.
Alan

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Clive
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Postby Clive » Tue Oct 29, 2013 12:29 pm

Hello Alan,

I'm having conversation on ivory use with somebody off-line and your post on this forum came up.
I'm sorry to say but I disagree with your assessment. If you could post some larger better quality pictures that show the character of the ivory and views from different angles.. a close up of the feet and a few length views (from the top and bottom) I'd be happy to elaborate further.

Best
Clive



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DSW90049
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Postby DSW90049 » Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:52 pm

He seems to be an amalgamation - mugwort leaves on a Chinese man wearing a hat[?] with almost a rapper's hand gestures . . .

But, you have to love his face!8-)
"There is no shortcut to netsuke collecting; it takes time, study and patience. The market is flooded with utterly worthless rubbish. . . . "
Netsukes: Their Makers, Use and Meaning, H. Seymour Trower(1898)~~~~David

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AFNetsuke
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Postby AFNetsuke » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:36 am

David, when I first picked it up I called it a Sennin but then realized those are not mugwort leaves but a design on the robes. I'm sure I've seen pieces with this hand gesture but have not located them yet. The feet planted squarely on the ground also made me question whether he is dancing.
Clive I'll have to try to get better lighting and time to take the photos. I may be wrong about the foot tip staining being due to being the outer "bark" but I think the rest makes perfectly good sense. I was trying to figure out why the back is concave from side to side and that's when I came up with the idea of it being the interior of the tusk near the hollow cavity which is pretty much conical in shape. Before I get to that I hope you'll give me a preliminary alternative interpretation.
Alan

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Clive
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Postby Clive » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:32 am

No rush Alan, whenever you've got time. :)

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AFNetsuke
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Postby AFNetsuke » Fri Nov 01, 2013 6:18 pm

A couple more shots but not sure if they'll show what I've described any better. The feet are turned to the right because the material was thinner at this level and it allows them to be a bit less stubby than if they pointed straight out. The length of the piece shows the slight concave curve top to bottom and the concave back is best seen between the shoulders.
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Alan


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