The Kirin is naked ! Kirin Meinertzhagen


Some time ago (it was 7 April 1837) I told you a fairy-tale. It was the story of a king and a little boy. Since I don’t want to tell you about that fairy-tale today, here’s the summary you can find on the Web:

Once upon a time there was a King who cared for nothing but his wardrobe.

One  day the King hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone unfit for his position or just hopelessly stupid. The King cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid. His ministers do the same.

When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mimic dressing him, and the King then marches in procession before his subjects. All the people standing by, and those at the windows, cry out: ‘Oh, how beautiful our King’s new clothes are!’

Only a child in the crowd looks, then looks again, and cries: the King is naked!”

Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder

The new fairy-tale (no fear: it’s just a fairy-tale) tells the story of the famous King of netsuke collectors and of a child born on 9 April 1939, one hundred and two years later than the other little boy who saw the King naked.

One day, this famous King of collectors sees a netsuke and falls in love with it. He decides to buy it, and over the years as he becomes increasingly famous, he convinces everyone that his netsuke – a Kirin – is the most beautiful ever seen (by him), the most beautiful ever carved: so beautiful that no one ever before and no one ever after could have surpassed it.

Even now, his Kirin is considered to be the most famous of all netsuke by scholars, collectors and merchants, although they have never seen it except in a photo.


The 71 year-old boy.

One day, a little boy who knew nothing about netsuke saw the photo of the most famous Japanese netsuke in the world and thought to himself:

* Hmph, it’s not so famous. You only see one side of it, as if you went around it

you might discover stuff that you shouldn’t see.

** From the looks of it, it wasn’t even born as a netsuke. It’s too big, too delicate and has too many sharp angles. Maybe it’s simply an okimono, badly adapted on the side you never see with what seems (but we’re not sure) a himotoshi.

*** And last of all, from the looks of it, it’s not even made in Japan. Since the King and all his courtesans openly say that this Kirin is “clearly and undeniably of Chinese inspiration”, might it not be that besides being inspired by China, it was also carved in China?

These are terribly irreverent thoughts.

It would be discovered that the most famous Japanese netsuke is not famous,

is not a netsuke, and is not Japanese.

To avoid the inevitable accusations of “impiety”, accusations that the reader is already formulating mentally and which had already created burning problems for Aristarcos of Samos, Copernicus, Galileo and Giordano Bruno, the little boy wisely restrains himself from saying out loud : “the Kirin is nake d!”.

That’s why I was the one that had to write this new fairy-tale.

Hans Christian Andersen


Post Scriptum

I would have never gotten involved in the ‘Kirin’ Meinertzhagen which I’ve never seen and probably will have the chance to see, at least in my current reincarnation,

if last week I hadn’t had the privilege of reading an article that Roberto Gaggianesi will publish in “Netsuke”, the bulletin of his gallery, La Galliavola.

My curiosity aroused, I was delighted to find a lively and amusing debate in Internet at the Forum of the International Netsuke Society. The debate, which began on 26 December 2004, went on for about 5 years.

A truly instructive read. Famous scholars and collectors took part in the debate.

Some of them, “Warburg” and “Shugenja” (pseudonyms, of course) in various ways and with a expertise that I can only dream of, hypothesized, suggested, hazarded, but without openly saying what our little boy had impudently thought: the most famous Japanese netsuke is not famous enough, is not a netsuke, is not Japanese, and practically no one has ever seen it.

To give an elegant closure to this funeral of a legend (no fear: it’s only a fairy-tale), I recommend the warm voice that already accompanied the end of another myth, Princess Diana of England.

Here’s the link:

In his album ‘West Coast’, Elton John sings:

We cheated the system

Never batting an eyelid

Seeing only the good

Through the holes in our shoes

And our halos were rusty

But we wore them proudly

We were two little gods

In the Emperor’s new clothes


6 Responses to “The Kirin is naked ! Kirin Meinertzhagen”

  1. Franco Bellino says:

    Franco Bellino says:
    June 21, 2010 at 11:33 am (Edit)
    I am so happy that I posted this text because it gave me the chance to receive an elegant and brilliant lesson, of netsuke scholarship and more important of life style, from a true Master.
    His words are so sharp that I asked the venerable Master to reproduce them just as I got them :
    Dear Franco
    I checked out the Meinertzhagen Kirin. I am sure it is Japanese; it is also brilliant. I agree it’s right up there among the finest ever netsuke and was almost certainly made as one. It shouldn’t really matter if it had a couple of holes drilled in it, it was a Netsuke by the time Meinertzhagen got it. A toggle is a toggle : take an old wing-nut and use it as a toggle and it is a toggle for the time being. It is the Victorian mind that likes to put things in one box or another and then pin them down – not good if you are a butterfly or a beetle.
    Chinese and Japanese styles of carving the beast are quite different, and the elongated neck of the typical kirin in the Netsuke world does not exist in Chinese depictions; nor is it often shown squatting, which suits a netukse ideally, but doesn’t mean anything in particular to the Chinese – where it is usually shown standing or prancing with rather equine proportions. Also the exaggeratedly bush tail and the bulging, musculature of the flanks – with or without star-like whorls to indicate hair – are typically more Japanese than Chinese. I’d bet my granny on it being Japanese as advertised.
    The Meinertzhagen Kirin is purely Japanese in style, but one other remote possibility occurs to me: given the trade between Fujian province and Japan via the Ryukiu islands in the late-Ming/early-Qing. It is possible that Chinese ivory carvers produced wares to Japanese taste and design for export. It is unlikely, since the Japanese were such spectacular ivory carvers and could do it themselves. If they did, however,then they didn’t just do one, they would have done a regular series in which case they are still ‘Japanese’ netsuke even if carved abroad. It is a long shot, but vaguely possible.
    The problem with such controversies is that the people who tend to broach them know one side of the equation but not the other: i.e. they know Japanese art, but not Chinese art, When they see something which doesn’t fit neatly into what they expect, they propose a Chinese origin out of the blue, but don’t understand how unlikely the piece becomes stylistically as Chinese.
    However, from what I understand of the arts of both cultures, the Meinertzhagen kirin is not only typically Japanese but one of the best. It seems a rather attractive option among those with shallow expertise to damn things, Taking a contrary view makes them sound clever among their peers, but when the dust has settled they tend to look a little silly, gullible.
    If you are going to publish your amusing analogy to the Emperor’s new clothes, I’d do it with an even hand, balancing the possibility of it being Chinese with the likelihood that it is the carping detractors who are perhaps looking in the mirror where they see naked fools. Leave open the conclusion but in such a way that when the dust settles everyone will look back and see what a wise, and well clad, chap you are.

  2. Franco Bellino says:

    Francesco Morena says:
    June 22, 2010 at 6:06 am (Edit)
    Francesco Morena dice:
    26 maggio 2010 alle 16:04
    “Mai dire mai”. Per me la regola di Mister Bond è stile di vita, amica e consigliera, grillo parlante cui conviene sempre dare ascolto. Il “Kirin Meinertzhagen” cinese? perchè no!
    1) esiste nell’arte cinese una produzione in avorio di altissimo livello e di impatto ‘naturalista’ (vedi ad esempio i due probabili esemplari di cui ho parlato nell’articolo sull’asta San Giorgio) ma, a mia conoscenza, non c’è intaglio che possa stilisticamente avvicinarsi a quello del Kirin in questione;
    molti netsuke giapponesi raffiguranti il kirin hanno un impianto compositivo simile a quello che caratterizza il nostro. Il “kirin che ulula alla luna” (così mi viene da definirlo al momento): un’iconografia molto particolare, non ispirata da una fonte a stampa, per la quale si attendono ancora studi che ne chiariscano la provenienza. Tuttavia, a mia conoscenza, finora essa compare solo tra i netsuke giapponesi, non nella statuaria cinese;
    certo, un intaglio così elaborato, ricco di aguzze protuberanze mal si presta a fungere da netsuke, poichè avrebbe ridotto a brandelli il lussuoso abito del ricco proprietario originario. Il dubbio si insinua: dunque, e se il “Kirin Meinertzhagen” fosse stato realizzato per essere non indossato ma collezionato? Un okimono dunque. E se così fosse, perchè non di epoca Meiji (qualcuno forse, se non ricordo male, proponeva provocatoriamente questa ipotesi già nel forum dell’INS)? Ma quale artista giapponese attivo in epoca Meiji, dopo aver realizzato un simile splendore, si sarebbe negato il piacere di firmare la sua opera? Nessuno, credo.
    Mi sembra invece che la tecnica di questo intaglio sia espressione di uno ’stile giapponese’ per la ricerca di ‘ombreggiature’, la finezza del dettaglio, etc… certo, l’influsso cinese è evidente, ma quale netsuke che si dica ‘arcaico’ non mostra questo retaggio continentale?;
    5) il quinto argomento è solo una dichiarazione di resa: potrebbe anche essere cinese, questo “Kirin Meinertzhagen”. Fin tanto che non venga fuori una documentazione inoppugnabile si può dire tutto e il contrario di tutto, senza giungere ad una conclusione. Alimentando però quella piacevolissima pratica che è la discussione.
    In ultimo, ringraziando Franco Bellino per il suo intervento, ricordo a me stesso che su questo tipo di argomenti, è necessaria una lunga meditazione fatta di studio, riflessioni e ripensamenti. Quello che ho scritto in questo commento è senz’altro frutto di divagazioni improvvisate, che ben si prestano al dialogo ma non possono avere quella valenza scientifica in cui credo fermamente.

  3. Margaret Duda says:

    In viewing over 10,000 Chinese toggles, I have never seen one that looked even remotely like this. And of course it’s not called a kirin in Chinese, but rather a qilin. It is certainly more Japanese in style than Chinese, but if it is too big to be a netsuke and has too many sharp edges, why can’t it just be a Japanese ornament and admired for its beauty?

  4. Hoteluri Bulgaria

    Thanks for finally writing about > The Kirin is naked ! Kirin Meinertzhagen

  5. Daniele says:

    You share interesting things here. I think that your website can go viral easily, but you must give it initial boost and i know how to do it, just
    type in google for – mundillo traffic increase go viral

  6. Tabitha Delatte says:

    Hi there!

    You Need Leads, Sales, Conversions, Traffic for ? Will Findet…


    Don’t believe me? Since you’re reading this message then you’re living proof that contact form advertising works!
    We can send your ad to people via their Website Contact Form.

    IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, Contact us =>


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>