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Shinto Shrine FoxShirai Nobutaro, Japanese, b. early 20th century
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California (February 14, 2001 - )
Foxes are messengers to the ancient Rice God (later a Goddess) Inari, the kami ( spirit) of businesses and economic livelihood. The foxes carry the wishes of the worshipper to the kami. One holds in its mouth a bolt used in a kind of lock, and the second has in its mouth the “wish-fufilling gem,” an effective aid to good results. Those who approach the shrine and entrust a message for the goddess to her wily messengers do so with humility and supplication that they will indeed be delivered.
Japanese folktales relate stories of foxes as masters of seduction and trickery. They are believed to take possession of people, particularly women, and turn them into witches, who wreak destruction on their lovers and children. Foxes are intelligent, dangerous, seductive, and not always trustworthy. These associations are actively developed in popular literature, theater, and imagery, including ukiyo-e.
The two hollow-cast bronze foxes acquired by the museum are exceptionally fine. Characters indicating they were made “in dedication” are written on the front face of the base of each fox, and the back of each is signed “Sharai Nobutaro”, with the mention of two attendants. Use of bronze and the signature of an artist, suggest a patron with command of the finest resources. The foxes are naturalistically rendered, with emphasis given to musculature of the haunches. Feet are carefully articulated, and there is a confidant thrust in the breast, and compressed energy in the curve of the spine. But it is the heads of these two foxes that particularly express the cluster of meanings and psychological complexity of their cultural role. The ears are long, elegant, and alert. The eyes are slightly curved, aligned with the bone structure of the head, and incised with pupils that darken in shadow: their intelligent cunning is unmistakable.
Asian Tastes Installation
A pair of foxes often flanks the entranceway into the shrine of Inari, the rice goddess. Inari is the kami (spirit) that presides over matters of the harvest and, by extension, over matters of business and economic livelihood. The foxes' job is to carry the wishes of the faithful to the Shinto deity. These two foxes from the Taisho period are cast in bronze and signed by Shirai Nobutaro. The use of bronze and the signature of an artist suggest that they were commissioned by a wealthy patron.
Last Updated: 2/24/2005
Art of East Asia San Diego Museum of Art , 2/3/2013 - 8/1/2013
Art of East Asia: Japan The San Diego Museum of Art , 8/24/2018 - 00/00/00
Berin Golonu, ed. Artweek Spaulding-Devin, Inc.. San Jose, California, June 2001
Page Number: 2
Dr. Caron Smith. San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego, California, 2003
Page Number: 66, Figure Number: 66
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