The carp or Japanaese Koi fish. swimming upstream valiantly against the current, symbolizes perseverance. During the last quarter of the 19th century, it swam around the world, trailed by schools of artists at every turn. At the same time that Louis Comfort Tiffany was designing a green bell lamp in the style of ancient Egypt, he conceived this swirling stained glass window in the shape of a carp.
In symbolic terms, a fish is a psychic being. Humans interpret its actions in terms of human psychology, both consciously and otherwise. Thus, the persevering carp. Another example is the idea that goldfish attract abundance and wealth (gold).
In Japanese, the word for carp is koi but it can also mean love. So a pair of carp symbolizes a happy marriage, by way of a play on words.
This beautiful vase from the Metropolitan Museum displays both the single persevering carp and the happily wedded pair. The carved metal waves at its top show why Kozan's work was so admired at the Imperial Court in Meiji Era Japan.
1. Utagawa Hiroshige - Carp Swimming Upstream, ca. 1880, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
2. Louis Comfort Tiffany - deisgn for a stained glass window, ca. 1895-1900, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
3. Unknown artist - image of carp, 18th century, Musee Guimet, Paris.
4. Makuzu Kozan (1842-1916) - carp vase with waves, ,ate 19th-early 20th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.