Seiko (Japanese, active late 19th century)
MediumBronze, glass, wood
DimensionsWork : 7 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (19.05 x 39.37 x 11.43 cm)
Credit LineHope College Collection
LabelThe history of Japanese sculpture stretches back more than 2,000 years. Prior to the 17th century, Japanese sculpture was primarily religious. A limited tradition of secular sculpture evolved between the 17th and mid-19th centuries, mostly in the form of carved toggles called netsuke that were used to secure purses and other small containers to people’s clothing. Purely decorative sculptures also existed at that time but were relatively rare. Sculpture’s status changed in the early Meiji period as Japanese artists learned more about Western sculptural traditions and began to produce sculptures aimed at Western buyers. In 1876, an Italian artist named Vincenzo Ragusa was hired by the Meiji government to teach Western-style sculpture at the Technical Fine Arts School in Tokyo. Ragusa introduced the classical and academic traditions of European sculpture, which were soon taken up by Japanese artists working in a variety of materials including metal, wood, ivory and ceramic. Birds and animals were especially popular subjects with Meiji sculptors, partly because those subjects were familiar from native Japanese art traditions and partly because they sold well in Western markets. This sculpture imitates the naturalistic depictions of wild animals produced by 19th century European artists like Antoine-Louis Barye. Improved understanding of different patination and polishing techniques allowed Meiji bronze sculptors to create figures with a wide range of surface effects.