Shōken, a child prodigy, was the first Japanese empress to play a public and diplomatic role and became invaluable to her husband at a time of sweeping changes and modernisation. Embracing Western culture, she was considered a forward-thinker – championing women’s education in 19th century Japan and setting up the Japanese Red Cross Society.
The bronze, to be shown by Meiji works of art dealer Laura Bordignon at the Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia (October 31-November 5), is signed in a rectangular reserve Nogami Ryuki, the go or art name of Nogami Tatsuoki.
He was famous for these studies of tortoises and completed several commissions for the imperial household. The original tomobako bears two inscriptions which translate as ‘decorative okimono of turtles which belonged to the late Empress Shōken, May 19, 1912’.