Japanese carved shells

Vangelli GalleryVangelli GalleryShell_01

Carved shells representing a peony and a carp fish.

Probably Japanese

1920 – 1930 ca.

cm. 54 x 28 x 22


The peony (牡丹, Botan)  is in Japan a symbol of masculinity, bravery, wealth and prosperity. This symbolism likely stems from the fact that only wealthy people could afford to care for peony bushes and trees. The peony is also the traditional flower symbol of China and the Chinese name for the peony is “sho yu”,which means “most beautiful”.

The carp is in Japan in known as “Koi” (鲤) which is a homophone for another word that means “affection” or “love”; koi are therefore symbols of love and friendship in Japan. The koi is also an often recurring symbol in Irezumi, the Japanese art of traditional tattooing.  The Koi as a symbol is very masculine. When a son is born in Japan, flags with Koi fish images are displayed. Nowadays, Koi tattoos are popular amongst men as well as women.