Tadakuni - snake and pumpkin netsuke
Nagoya, circa 1850
A finely detailed snake weaves its way in and out of rotting holes in the skin of a pumpkin. Its tongue flickers as it rests its head on the top of the vegetable. The eyes are inlaid in dark horn.
A familiar subject of the Nagoya carvers, the explanation of this combination may simply be that the snake shelters in the cool damp environment of the pumpkin patch, awaiting the arrival of the small rodents which feast on its flesh, and which in turn will be eaten by the snake. A more esoteric explanation might be that both are associated with the Hindu god, Lord Shiva. The snake can live for an extended period of time on nothing – therefore hoards nothing – while the pumpkin is hollowed out of flesh in order to be able to hold the nectar, emblematic of being cleansed of egotistical desire.