Ivory brushpot depicting bakemono
Height: 5.5 inches (14 cm) — Japan, Meiji Period
The assemblage of bakemono (supernatural creatures) on this
ivory brushpot represents one of the most thrilling and evocative legends in
Japanese culture. The hyakki yako (night parade of one hundred demons) is among
the oldest of Japanese tales, represented in paintings and prints for centuries.
Artists displayed their skill and creativity by rendering these creatures on the
march, from the fearsome to the absurd.
The ivory carver who created this brushpot magnificently communicated the dynamic and playful quality of the hyakki yako. The bakemono depicted include hitotsu-me kozo (one-eyed priest with long, lolling tongue); an oni waving a fan while seated in a hibachi that has come to life; umi bozu, the octopus-headed priest carrying a huge Buddhist fan; and an unruly frog atop minogame (long-tailed tortoise).
The artist has used techniques of the netsuke carver to engrave patterns of the robes of the bakemono. Sculpting with multiple layers of relief creates depth, and textural treatment of the tree, rockwork, and skin of the bakemono lends a naturalistic quality to this outrageous dream. The artist has borrowed the painterly convention of overhanging clouds at the top, indicating a scene of fantasy.