Tomobako, Container


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Basic Information

Artifact Identification Tomobako, Container   (2017.13.0005K)
  1. Furnishings
  2. :
  3. Household Accessories
  4. :
  5. Storage & Display Accessories
Artist/Maker Kano Tessai
Geographic Location
Period/Date Taisho, 1925 CE
Culture N/A

Physical Analysis

Dimension 1 (Length) 30.1 cm
Dimension 2 (Width) 12.8 cm
Dimension 3 (Height) 6.2 cm
Weight 260 g
Measuring Remarks The above measurements only refer to the wooden portion of the box and bear no significance to the measurements of the ribbon.
Materials Plant--Bamboo, Varnish--Lacquer, Textile, Animal--Hair
Manufacturing Processes Carved
Munsell Color Information N/A

Research Remarks

Published Description N/A

Set of ten carved bamboo and lacquer Gigaku masks in their original tomobako (storage box). The calligraphy on the interior of the tomobako lid includes the following: ‘Ten Gigaku bamboo and lacquer masks carved by Kano Tessai at age 80, Taisho period 1925.’ The Interior of the lid twice signed Tessai with kao (1845-1925). Each of the ten signed masks measures 1 3/4” to 2” high.

Kano Tessai was an important innovative sculptor and a prolific maker of carved bamboo netsuke, mask okimono, bamboo tea ceremony utensils, kizeruzutsu, etc. literature and painting, he became a professional painter and sculptor. In 1890, Tessai became a professor at the Tokyo Art School, dividing his time between Tokyo and Nara where he lived. Stylistically, his work reflects his literati background with a feeling for age and a freedom of expression that favored improvisation. He created numbers of netsuke in the form of old masks, complete with details of flaking pigment and old losses to convey a feeling of wabi and the transience of life, such as those included in the subject set of ten. Many of his mask carvings, in miniature, were faithful copies of Gigaku masks held in the Shoso-in depository in Nara.
The Shoso-in depository is a timber structure in Nara, Japan, that was built to receive the personal treasures bequeathed to the Todai Temple by the Emperor Shomu, who died in 756. While subsequent deposits gradually added to the collection, the original gift embraced more than 600 items, which included Buddhist ritual objects, Gigaku masks, furniture, musical instruments, textiles, metalwork, lacquer work, cloisonne, glassware, potty, painted screens, calligraphy, and maps. Many of these pieces must have been made in Japan, but they are for the most part typical of the style and decoration of the Chinese Tang dynasty.
Gigaku masks, also known as kure-gaku are among the world’s oldest, and are the earliest known in Japan.

Gigaku masks, unlike the later bugaku masks, covered the entire head and had no movable parts. They were usually carved by Buddhist sculptors, and they exemplify the style and technique of Buddhist sculpture. The carving of gigaku masks reached its highest point during the Nara period (710-784) but was no longer practiced by the middle of the Heian period (c. 990), when it was superseded by the bugaku mask.

The Shoso-in Treasure House has 36 original Gigaku masks. Ten of these are the works of Shiri no Uonari, and have detailed structural features and are the most important masks of the 36. This set of ten are miniature bamboo carvings of these treasures from the Shoso-in. They were carved exactly as they looked, including deterioration. The tomobako states that it contains 10 gigaku bamboo masks which are treasures from the Shoso-in Treasure House, signed twice Kano Tessai with a Kao, and dated.


Lot 251: A bamboo vase, Meiji period (circa 1900), Signed Tessai [Kano Tessai (1845-1925)]. Christie’s New York Sale 1876: Japanese and Korean Art. September 18, 2007 Lot: 2272: Cherry wood pipecase by Kano Tessai (1845-1925). Bonhams New York Sale 17690: The Bluette H. Kirchhoff Collection of Netsuke and Sagemono. September 16, 2009. Lot 47: A wood gigaku mask netsuke of tengu by Kano Tessai (1845-1925). Bonhams London Sale 21100: Fine Netsuke from the Adrienne Barbanson Collection. May 13, 2013. Freer-Sackler Gallery. FSC-W-19.1.20. Set of 20 gigaku masks by Kano Tessai.


Eccentrics in Netsuke Exhibition Catalogue, Sydney L. Moss Ltd. London. pp. 166-169.

Artifact History

Archaeological Data N/A
Credit Line/Dedication Fred A. Freund Collection
Reproduction No
Reproduction Information N/A

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