Each of these highly detailed Buddha statuettes is hand carved from genuine ivory. [MORE INFO]
On the back row the busts on either end are 'netsuke'. Japanese artists cleverly invented the miniature sculptures known as netsuke to serve a very practical function. Traditional Japanese garments - robes called kosode and kimono - had no pockets. Men who wore them needed a place to keep personal belongings such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or medicines. The elegant solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' sash. The containers might take the form of a pouch or a small woven basket, but the most popular were beautifully crafted boxes (inro), which were held shut by ojime, sliding beads on cords. Whatever the form of the container, the fastener that secured its cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke. Two small holes in the bottom or back of the figurine indicate their intended use as a netsuke. Such objects, often of great artistic merit and highly collectible, have a long history reflecting important aspects of Japanese life.
Technically all the statues in both rows, with the Buddha seated in meditation, qualify as 'okimono' if they originated from Japan as most of these items did. The okimono was made as an ornament for display in/on tokonama, shelves or alcoves in traditional Japanese homes. The art form developed during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) as a direct result of the shrinking home market for netsuke. Utilizing the outstanding skills of the netsuke carvers, these ornaments were initially no larger than netsuke (roughly 2 inches) but gradually became somewhat larger. The ivory okimono in this collection display outstanding craftsmanship. The finest okimono carvings emanated from the Tokyo School of Art, founded in 1887 with the aim of combining traditional skills with Western influences. Most Tokyo School ivories are quite large and carved from a single section of tusk (see the center Buddha in the front row). The favorite subjects of these highly realistic okimono sculptures were samurai, bijin (beautiful women), peasants, fishermen and mythical and mystical beings like the Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Boundless Light.
Each seated Buddha figure in the two rows of this collection sits vajrasana (cross legged position also referred to as the lotus position) with hands folded in the lap in meditation. In most cases above this is the Mida-no Jouin Mudra, also referred to as the Amida's Meditation Mudra, which is used exclusively in Zen Buddhism in Japan, where the thumbs and index finger of both hands touch each other, forming a circle. It was through meditation that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, achieved Enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi Tree. Some of the Buddhas sit on a lotus petal pedestal which symbolizes his divine birth and the seeking of enlightenment... others sit flat on the ground.
Antique ivory carvings often have religious figures such as the Amida (a.k.a. Amitabha) Buddha as their subjects. Ivory has had great religious significance to many cultures throughout history. Because ivory is a natural organic material which is at once virtually indestructible, ivory has been viewed as having mystical powers that could only be attributed to a deity. The primary source of ivory, the elephant, is widely revered throughout Asia. The white elephant is the most revered animal in all of Thailand. Elephant Ivory was often used in religious ceremonies, and ivory carvings often pay tribute to gods and goddesses. The white elephant owes its high status to Buddhist mythology. Queen Maya, the mother of Prince Siddhartha, the future Buddha, was barren until she had a dream that a white elephant had entered her womb. Elephants also gain status from Ganesh, the Hindu god of knowledge and remover of obstacles, which features an elephant's head with a single tusk and four arms. Carved ivory sculpture, which has deep roots in Asia and is one of China's oldest arts, was not a widely used technique by Japanese artists until the Edo period, the final period of traditional Japan. Carvers of this time developed a mastery of ivory sculpture, particularly in miniature, that still influences modern Japanese artists and is prized by collectors around the world. This priceless ivory Buddha collection within the Villa Del Prado art collection is the largest known collection of Ivory Okimono of the Amida Buddha in the world. Closeups of each piece can be found on the main page.