Edmund de Waal: The Hare with Amber Eyes

The global taste for Japanese art

Angus Trumble

 

The Hare With Amber Eyes: A hidden inheritance
by Edmund de Waal
Vintage, $24.95 pb, 364 pp, 9780099539551

 

The Hare With Amber Eyes tells the migration story of ‘a very large collection of very small objects’, specifically 264 netsuke (pronounced like ‘jet ski’, from the Japanese characters for ne and tsuke, meaning ‘root’ and ‘attach’). Netsuke are small pieces of ivory, wood, metal, ceramic, or some other material, carved or otherwise decorated, and perforated for use as a toggle that tucks behind the belt or sash of a kosode or kimono (obi). From it a purse or more usually a small box with compartments (inro) may be suspended by a stout silken cord, and fastened with sliding beads (ojime). Netsuke evolved in seventeenth-century Japan to embrace an almost limitless number of decorative forms and shapes, increasingly prized, through the eighteenth century, as miniature sculptures on their own, nevertheless conforming to the basic requirement of their original function: namely, to allow a cord to be threaded through some sort of eye – in the case of the eponymous hare with the amber eyes this is achieved by the contrivance of a cocked hind leg; such strategies became more and more ingenious as netsuke proliferated – and also adhering to a roughly uniform size of between one and two inches in diameter, occasionally more. Ideally, netsuke nestle comfortably in the palm of the hand. Indeed, part of their aesthetic appeal is to the sense of touch, so deployed.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in June 2011 no. 332
Angus Trumble

Angus Trumble

Angus Trumble is Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. Previously he was a Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. His latest publication is The Finger: A Handbook (2010). (Photograph by Mary Ellen Carroll)


Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.