Tiny Monkey Treasures: from accessories to prized art objects

Japanese netsuke – miniature sculptures – date from about the 17th century.  These small toggles secured containers – pouches or boxes (inro)  – to the sash (obi) of a robe or kimono.  The containers might carry items such as tobacco or medicine.  Carvings of animals reflected myths and indigenous creatures, primates among the most popular.  Most netsuke measure about 1 to 1 1/2 inches, and most were fashioned from wood, ivory, or, less common, various metals.

Highly-prized by collectors, netsuke are also found in museums world-wide, including the Inro Museum, Takayama, Japan, The Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London, the Los Angeles County Museum in California, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

A group of intertwined monkeys decorate a wooden, oval-shaped netsuke in the British Museum collection (museum no. 1945, 1017.666).  In its East Asian Room (Level 5), the National Museum of Scotland exhibits an ivory netsuke depicting a seated monkey eating fruit and holding a basket of fruit on its head.  A wooden carving of a seated monkey catching fleas – dating from the 18th or 19th century – is part of the Metropolitan Museum collection (accession no. 91.1.1018).


See also:  Japanese Netsuke, Julia Hutt, V & A Museum, 2003.

The Raymond and Francis Bushell Collection of Netsuke, V. G. Atchley and Hollis Goodall, et. al., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2003.