A Good Sized Hand Painted Wooden Ema: Shinto Votive Plaque
late nineteenth, early twentieth century
19" x 28" x 3/4", 48.25 cm x 71 cm x 2 cm
This is a hand painted wooden tablet showing a horse and a foal, both in profile, and elegantly painted in a flat, one-dimensional manner.
This tablet is called an ema. An ema is a votive offered by an individual to a Shinto shrine either in petition for a favor or in thanks for a favor received. Some ema can be very large and hand painted. They can depict battle scenes, sailing ships or other elaborate images.
This ema shows horses; ema literally means "horse picture," which harkens back to the origin of the ema: in olden days, horses would be offered to Shinto shrines. As horses are an elaborate gift, tokens showing the image of a horse then became a traditional offering as a painted horse was no way as expensive as an actual horse.
This particular ema shows a rich patina from age. The very limited palette of brown, black and white is darkened from wear and, presumably, from exposure to the elements. As well, there is evidence that the surface of this ema was affected by the ravages of time as it has developed a lovely coating of age.
A wonderful thing with rustic appeal and one that is of good age and with a very appealing image.