style of these figures is clearly pre-Meiji, their age confirmed by the surface
appearance and seasoned patina of the material (which, being marine ivory, ages
more slowly than elephant ivory) establishing their date as 19th Century late
Edo period. A sympathetic depiction of Christianity is nevertheless quite rare
even in the late Edo period, the country being still largely untouched by Western
culture and historically hostile to Christianity.
depiction of the Three Kings is strictly Japanese in conception, the kings wearing
imperial robes and headgear, the carving hieratic and adapted to the shape of
the tusk tips. Two of the kings carry baskets of peonies; one offers a basket
of ling chi, the fungus of immortality. All are freely engraved with embroideries
of foliate, water, and feather motifs with details inked in sepia and black, the
faces imbued with dignity and the wisdom of age.