Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art

A Pair of Bronze Komainu Figures - Edo-Meiji

A Pair of Bronze Komainu Figures - Edo-Meiji

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Metalwork: Pre 1900: Item # 1262864

Please refer to our stock # 40 when inquiring.
This is a pair of small but powerful cast bronze figures in the shape of Komainu temple guardians. Cast in bronze they appear to be solid as the rectangular base is open and shows no sign of an opening to the bodies of the figures - they are rather heavy as well at 12 oz the pair. They are in excellent condition with fine patina and light verdigris in some folds and the base. On two of the flame shaped tails that are at the bottom rear of each figure, there is a small missing tip that broke off years ago. These figures measure 3 1/4" tall with base included and are 1 3/4 wide at the base and the length of the base is 2 7/8". The two are both sitting on their haunches as is common in most depictions of these figures. We date them to the late Edo to early Meiji periods, circa 1850 - 1890s.

(For some reason photographing these two figures has been very difficult as to the color of the bronze. We show them here against both a light tab and light blue background in an attempt to get as close to the true color as possible. The best we could call the color is a dark reddish brown with verdigris highlights.)

Komainu, often called lion-dogs in English, are statue pairs of lion-like creatures either guarding the entrance or the inner shrine of many Japanese Shinto shrines or kept inside the inner shrine itself, where they are not visible to the public They can sometimes be found also at Buddhist temples, nobility residences or even private homes. Meant to ward off evil spirits, modern komainu statues are almost identical, but one has the mouth open, the other closed.

During the Nara period (710–794), as in the rest of Asia, the pair always consisted of two lions. During the early Heian period (ninth century), the tradition changed and the two statues started to be different and be called differently. One had its mouth open and was called shishi (lion?) because, as before, it resembled that animal. The other had its mouth closed, looked rather like a dog, was called komainu, or "Koguryo dog", and sometimes had a single horn on its head. Gradually the animals returned to be identical, but for their mouths, and ended up being called both komainu. This pair is made in the same configuration as those of the Heian period inasmuch as one of the figures has the single horn on its head.