Naito Koseki was a celebrated sculptor of Buddhist statuary. He studied under Tanaka Mondo (1857-1917) until he was thirty years old. His most celebrated work is an Amida Buddha created to celebrate the refurbishment of the Amida Hall at Enrakuji in Kyoto. He was not a professional carver of netsuke, but is known to have received commissions for four netsuke from Oscar Raphael and Walter L Behrens when they visited Japan, this piece being created for Behrens in 1910. Koseki also gifted a Gyo-do- mask netsuke to a British collector in 1913. Two of these five pieces are now in the collection of the British Museum.
A grim-faced Endo Morita holds aloft the severed head of Kesa, his unsheathed sword trailing from his other hand as he realises that he has slain the very object of his desire. His eyes are closed in anguish and his body seems to sag as he grasps the head by its hair. The long tresses flow like rivulets down his outstretched arm, the sense of movement echoed in the folds of his costume, combining to create a suggestion of grief. (In Japanese painting tradition the flowing movement of drooping branches a weeping willow are emblematic of a young woman’s tears). There is an old repair to one foot, as noted in N.K. Davey’s Netsuke.
This legendary carving depicts the subject of a kabuki play, the tragic story of a beautiful and faithful wife, Kesa, who is pursued relentlessly by Endo Morita. Fearing that her honour and her husband’s life are in danger, she hatches a plan and suggests to Morita that he should come quietly to her home at night and slay her husband while he is asleep. Believing he will at last win her, Morita enters the bedroom under cover of darkness and cuts the head from the sleeping form – only to discover that Kesa had deliberately taken her husband’s place in the bed and the he has instead murdered the woman he loved.
Signed on the sword scabbard: Koseki to