Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head Bronze Miyao Man with Long Head
A Charming Parcel-Gilt and Bronze Figural Group
On a Parcel-Gilt Wooden Stand

By Miyao Eisuke, Meiji Period, circa 1880

Depicting Fukurokuju, with applied gilt-plaque MIYAO

7in. (17.7cm) high, 13 1/2in (33cm) wide

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The Miyao Company of Yokohama was a prolific producer of medium to large-scale patinated and gilded bronze sculpture and was renowned for producing good quality, ornate and highly detailed pieces by utilising simple casting and gilding techniques. Following the Meiji revolution, the old feudal system was eliminated, and the former ruling classes, including the samurais, were gradually stripped of their powers and privileges of rank. However, even as old Japan was disappearing, the West, through its new trading links with Japan, became increasingly fascinated with this culture and its art. To cater to this interest, as well as to domestic taste, companies like Miyao produced pieces with figures drawn from Japanese history and legend – an interesting example of a society drawing on its past in order to modernise.

The Miyao Company of Yokohama was founded by Miyao Eisuke, who, like many who founded manufacturing companies in this period, was not himself a craftsman, but rather an entrepreneur who gathered a group of artists and craftsmen under him. Few of these individual artists are known by name, but many of them would have been from families of traditional metalworkers, originally trained in the techniques used to decorate objects like sword fittings which, in this new Japan were no longer needed. When the samurais were banned from wearing their ceremonial swords in 1876, these sword-fitters turned their hand to new decorative arts, some working on their own, others joining companies like Miyao. These traditional tradesmen, highly skilled and readily educated in the techniques of the craft, were able to adapt their metalworking abilities onto smaller figures. Here they could produce amazingly detailed pieces of armour for the sculptures from iron lamella to tiny wrought swords. Such craftsmanship kept the metalworking industry alive whilst preserving the refinement of the Samurai tradition within the regal sculptures.

Eisuke’s company was one of the ‘second-rank’ factories, so called because instead of using the traditional but time-consuming technique of inlay, the details in the works they produced were surface-gilded. However, this label by no means indicated that their work was inferior; the detail and technique in these pieces is exquisite, and the company exhibited at both the Second and Third Domestic Industrial Expositions in Tokyo, in 1881 and 1909. Eisuke continued to manifest the public’s appreciation for Miyao sculptures by steadily increasing the number of legendary characters cast in bronze and only slightly altering older designs. His showrooms were filled with the choice of Japanese cast figures designed as koro, lamps and sculptures and his shop was considered one of the city’s most interesting sights due to its range of curios. Other examples of Miyao’s sculptures are held in museum collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Fukurokuju is one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese mythology