Finely illustrated scroll on three long joined sheets of paper measuring 462 x 4610 mm., title on the antique wooden box reading: “Dakyu zu emaki” [trans.: “Illustrated Scroll of Polo”], signed at bottom “Ikyo Kano.”

Finely illustrated scroll on three long joined sheets of paper measuring 462 x 4610 mm., title on the antique wooden box reading: “Dakyu zu emaki” [trans.: “Illustrated Scroll of Polo”], signed at bottom “Ikyo Kano.”

Ink, brush, & color wash in various colors, gold speckles on edges and endpapers, silk brocade endpapers. Japan: early 19th-century.

The equestrian sport of polo, or in Japanese dakyu, is believed to have originated in Central Asia and then spread both to Europe and became “polo,” as well as to China and subsequently Japan through the Korean peninsula in the 8th or 9th centuries. In the Nara and Heian periods, the court at the Imperial Palace played dakyu, most notably on the Boys’ Day Festival (tango) of 5 May.

While dakyu’s popularity declined during the Kamakura period, it experienced a resurgence under the reign of Yoshimune Tokugawa (1684-1751), who adopted the game as a form of exercise for cavalry warfare. At this time, it evolved into a recreation closer to lacrosse in which they scooped rather than struck the ball with a gittcho (polo cane). This scroll vividly depicts the Yamagata or Imperial style of play, employing shorter canes and smaller balls, and with both teams shooting at a single goal.

Yoshimune, himself an avid horseman, launched several initiatives to improve the stock of horses in Japan. He ordered the importation of Chinese horses and invited horse specialists from China, whose knowledge he considered superior. In 1725, a Dutch groom named Hans Jurgen Keijser (1697?-1735), was solicited by the Shogun himself to come to Japan and share Western methods of horse rearing and equine medicine. Also, at that time, five Dutch horses were transported to Japan for breeding. Despite the strict rules for foreigners, Keijser was afforded great freedom of movement, often travelling to Nagasaki and Edo from Dejima Island. He remained in Japan for about eleven years, instructing Japanese horsemen and dakyu players on European horse-back riding techniques, veterinary medicine, and hoof cutting and shoeing. The Dutch books on early veterinary medicine which Keijser carried with him were edited and published in 1730 as Waran bayo sho [trans.: Book of Dutch Horse Care].

The horses depicted on this large format scroll represent the development of Japanese breeding techniques resulting from the incorporation of Western and Chinese practices. The horses seen here are very likely the products of methodical interbreeding of Western and Chinese horsestock, given their longer and more muscular necks as well as their thinner legs. Beginning with Yoshimune, the Japanese loosened bans on foreign knowledge to improve various industries. This influx of information transformed the care of horses and enabled the Japanese to breed selectively and keep the horses healthy and fit for events such as dakyu.

Ikyo Kano (active early 19th cent.), member of the famous artistic family and court artist for the Nagaoka fiefdom, very likely executed this scroll. At the end of the scroll, we find the first name of the artist with his seal. The lavish illustrations show aristocrats in richly colored and flowing robes and helmets holding gittcho and riding specially bred horses. Goal posts are also depicted at the beginning and end of the scroll.

In fine condition but with some inoffensive wormholes, occasionally touching images. Several images show small abrasions. The endpaper at the beginning of the scroll is an almost ethereal display of golden clouds. Early representations of dakyu are rare.

❧ Richard D. Mandell, Sport: A Cultural History, pp. 95-98. Angela Schottenhammer, “Japan: The Tiny Dwarf Sino-Japanese Relations from the Kangxi to the Early Qianlong Reigns” (2008), pp. 18-21. See the wonderful online resource Japan-Netherlands Exchange in the Edo Period, Part I, section 3 “Tokugawa Yoshimune and the Germination of Dutch Studies,” accessed 4 April 2018.

Price: $15,000.00

Item ID: 6209