A Large Hand Painted Shinto Ema: Obscured Animal Images
reduced from $345.00
early to mid twentieth century
17 1/4" x 31", 43.5 cm x 78.75 cm
This is a hand painted wooden tablet showing a curious, faded and weathered image of of a Japanese building and its exterior. This backdrop is the setting for an interior vignette of two mice or rats on tatami who are placed in front of a painted scroll, while "outside" are two fighting or playing dogs, maybe Japanese Chins. The background shows a faint outline of a lantern and some other painted details lost to time.
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.
The word 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 an mysterious scene, kind of clunkily painted and very faded from years of exposure to the elements. The finish of the surface is matte or dull. The mice and the dogs may be an allusion to the Chinese zodiac.
A wonderful thing with rustic appeal and one that is of good age and with a very appealing, complex image.