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Published on December 12, 2022

Netsuke hands on at the MMFA

Photo MMFA

Tucked away in the Stephan Crétier and Stéphany Maillery Wing for the Arts of One World at the MMFA is a collection of tiny, exquisitely detailed Japanese objects, called netsuke. These figurines that fit in the palm of your hand carry a rich, though little-known, history. Thanks to the digital experience 根付 Netsuke Hands On, the public can now discover these objects’ hidden secrets.

Using their smartphone and earphones, the public is invited to get up close to the Museum’s collection of netsuke – digitally – in 根付 Netsuke Hands On. So, what exactly are netsuke? These miniature sculptures first appeared in Edo Japan (1615-1868) as men’s fashion accessories that were used to suspend small pouches from the belt of their kimonos. Finely decorated and made from expensive imports like ivory, netsuke not only served a practical purpose but were markers of social status. Moreover, their tiny scale, rich material and artistic intricacy made them desirable to Western collectors in the 19th century especially.

By simply scanning the QR code next to the artworks, visitors can access two types of digital experience in 根付 Netsuke Hands On: the first allows the user to digitally manipulate the 3D renderings of the netsuke; and the second additionally proposes a storytelling of the object’s fascinating history. The experience allows the user to observe intricate details that would otherwise be nearly indiscernible to the naked eye. The 3D modelling of the netsuke was achieved through photogrammetry, a technique that allows you to precisely define an object’s dimensions and volume by means of photographic images.

“With this digital initiative, small objects like netsuke can come out of their display case, so to speak, and take the spotlight at the Museum. It gives the public an opportunity to learn more, in a playful and entertaining way, about these objects’ social context and their journey from Edo Japan (1615-1868) to present-day Montreal,” explains Laura Vigo, Curator of Asian Art at the MMFA.

根付 Netsuke Hands On can be experienced on site via smartphone, or online in a version created specifically for the Web. Visitors can admire the Museum’s collection of netsuke in person in the Wing for the Arts of One World, on the 4th floor of the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion.

A gift from Dr. Stephen Fichman

It is thanks to the generosity of Dr. Stephen Fichman that the Museum has been able to display this collection and bring it to life in 根付 Netsuke Hands On. This Montreal patron enabled the realization of this project. The MMFA Foundation thanks him and the donors who responded to his appeal for generosity. Their passion for the objects can now be passed on to the public.


根付 Netsuke Hands On was made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Quebec and Tourisme Montréal. The Museum thanks Dr. S. Fichman for his commitment as well as the donors who responded to his appeal for generosity.

This project is funded in part by the Government of Quebec as part of the implementation of Measure 115 of Plan culturel numérique du Québec.

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