Pair of Sword-Grip Ornaments (Menuki)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

About the work

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Menuki are pairs of ornamental fittings that Japanese sword makers attach to either side of sword hilts. Here, a brown doe with gold spots reclines with her head and tail in the air, while a black stag with gold spots and gold antlers reclines, hoof extended, and gazes at the viewer. These deer are from the 19th century, a time of transition between the Edo and Meiji periods. They are delicate and naturalistic. In Shinto iconography, deer are considered sacred messengers of the gods. They also symbolize rank in Chinese and Japanese art. In one common theme, the animals of the Zodiac are poets engaged in a poetry contest, with deer serving as judges.

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