A bronze figure of a Shishimai dancer

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A bronze figure of a Shishimai dancer
Japan, Meiji period (1868-1912) Late 19th century
Cast standing on top of bale of rice straw, wearing a large Shishi mask and cloak and holding a suzu and fan in his hand, the mouth of the mask open revealing a man’s face inside, the bale of straw opens to be used as a container.

H. 37 cm

Bought by the current owner at the Pan Amsterdam art fair.

Catalogue note: The shishiodori or Lion dance, is a dance in which the performer wears a decorative lion head (the shishigashira). Shishimai was introduced from the Asian mainland in ancient times as part of the arts of gigaku, bugaku, and sangaku. Originally, it took the form of a dancer performing while wearing a lion costume resembling a stuffed animal. During the Kamakura and Muromachi periods it came to be performed along with sarugaku and dengaku and took on the form that can be seen today. Shishimai can be broadly divided into two-man and one-man varieties. In the former, one performer takes up the position of the head and the other the tail, thus forming a four-footed lion. There are also variations in which several performers form the body of the lion. In the latter one-man variety, a single performer plays the lion’s part. This is the variety that can be seen most often in eastern Japan. Lion dances can be considered to have various ritual or symbolic functions, including the display of force to ward off evil, prayers for the protection of agriculture or for rain, harvest celebrations, and memorial services for wild animals.

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