Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: A jizai okimono of a dragon; Amy Leach on a dragon's last thoughts

Bonhams offers at auction (in London, November 11th) "a fine, rare and large iron jizai (fully articulated) okimono of a dragon; Myochin School, Edo Period, 18th/19th century
Realistically rendered with a long serpentine and undulating body, forged with numerous hammered scales joined inside the body with karakuri tsunagi, the leg joints, head, mouth and ears each constructed of moving parts, unsigned; with wood storage box. 137cm (54in) overall length."

Canary & Lobster fell in love with this powerful beauty. To enlarge the picture and learn more, click on the Bonhams site here, and enter "jizai okimono" in the search panel (upper right of screen).

Here is more from Bonhams about the piece:

"Of all the categories of Edo-period artefacts eagerly collected outside Japan for the last century and a half, articulated animals have the least trace of documentary evidence concerning their origin and development. Even the Japanese word for them, jizai or jizai okimono, appears to be a post-Edo term. [...]

According to Harada Kazutoshi, Special Research Chair at the Tokyo National Museum, the earliest-known jizai okimono dates from 1713. It is not clear for what purpose they were made, or from where the complicated manufacturing techniques originated. [...]"

Canary thinks the jizai okimono are the equivalent of death-masks or funerary puppets, honoring a dragon who once lived regally among humans. Maybe the living dragon's memories are stored within the okimono, are stirred to life when the construction's hinged limbs are moved.

And what might those memories consist of? Who can say, who has not recently conversed with dragons? But Amy Leach offers some ideas in her essay "Complexions," published in the Autumn, 2010 issue of The Gettysburg Review:

" 'To whom, then, does the earth belong?' said the dragon as he was being slain. 'Sometimes it seems to belong to dragons; at other times to dragon gaggers. Sometimes it seems to belong to the hot harmattan wind . . . then to the descuernadragones, the wind that dehorns dragons . . . and then to the doldrums. Sometimes it seems to belong to the slaves, when the sea parts to let them through, and sometimes to the sea when the sea does not part. Now to the siskin finch and sablefish; now to smitheries and smelteries. Perhaps the earth is neutral, like a bridge between two cities, traveled on but possessed by no traveler.' Such are the behindhand ponderings of a doomed dragon."

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