Iki Ningyo 生人形
During the Meiji Period, Japanese armour had become somewhat defunct as the samurai class was abolished. Samurai families sold their armour to merchants who exported them to the west as items of curiosity.
Armours were often displayed on mannequins known as Iki-Ningyo, meaning life-size doll. The appearance of these dolls are somewhat cartoon like, maybe influenced by samurai woodblock prints, Noh theatre masks and Boys Day festival miniature dolls.
Surprisingly Iki-Ningyo are uncommon in japan where armour is displayed on wooden stands, making these very much a western product. Examples appear in many collections throughout the world from the Stibbert Museum in Italy to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, to the Royal Armouries in England.
The actual construction of these pieces are made from wood, plaster and paper, making them rather fragile. With these being so easly damaged they have become somewhat of a rarity as only a few of them remain. As a result of this, they have become highly collectable and very expensive to acquire.
Sourcing An Original
I’ve been collecting Japanese Armour for over thirty years, during that time I have only ever seen two Iki Ningyo heads for sale. I do own an original, but it is damaged. This year I was able to gain access to another original head and make a copy. I also discovered that it was made by the artist Kamehachi Masahiro. Who I believe made the ones on display in the Royal Armouries and V&A museums.
Creating A Reproduction
I took a silicone mould of the face, as the head has hair I could not mould it in its entirety. With some ingenuity, I was able to also take a copy of my head and remove its face. My ears are also damaged, so I took a copy of them too. After grafting them together I have been able to create a new head that has been made from copying tow others, so we have something that’s unique.