A rectangular suzuribako (box for writing implements) with kabusebuta (overhanging lid) and chirii (beveled edges to the lid), the principal surfaces all finished in rich gold nashiji and decorated in...
A rectangular suzuribako (box for writing implements) with kabusebuta (overhanging lid) and chirii (beveled edges to the lid), the principal surfaces all finished in rich gold nashiji and decorated in gold and black hiramaki-e and takamaki-e with embellishments of gold and silver kirigane and some silver nashiji amongst the gold, the exterior of the lid with a scene from Chapter 51 of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), the sides of the box and lid with clouds and waves, the interior of the lid with a Chinese-style landscape of pine-clad rocks, pavilions, and temples by a lake, in the background distant mountains and descending geese, in the foreground two small figures in Chinese dress crossing a bridge, the box containing a tray to the left with a contrasted macroscopic view of rocks, a pine, water, and a mandarin duck, and a suzuri (ink-grinding stone) and silvered-metal circular suiteki to the right, the edges gold lacquer. Comes with a fitted kiri-wood storage box.
This finely decorated box is an outstanding example of the figural style of narrative decoration that developed in Kyoto lacquer during the early decades of the Edo period. Previously, literary allusions in lacquer decoration had most often been to waka poems rather than to longer narrative texts and had been expressed by a few non-figural elements, typically combined with a handful of words from the relevant poem, hidden in the design. The sixteenth century saw a widespread revival of interest in the eleventh-century Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) as well as a systematic codification of its many narrative elements, along with the correct way to depict them. Many-peopled Genji scenes are often seen in painted screens of the Momoyama period (1573–1615) and, not long after, in the decorative arts, especially lacquer. The maker of this box successfully used the maki-e medium to convey some of the central elements of Ukifune (The Floating Boat), Chapter 51 of Genji monogatari. The scene is at Uji, some ten miles south of Kyoto, where Prince Niou (grandson of Genji) is shown returning to a group of weary court attendants (one of them nodding off to sleep) following his dalliance in a house beyond the river with Ukifune, depicted here in a boat with a female companion; she will soon throw herself into the waters in an attempt to escape the rivalry for her affections between Niou and Prince Kaoru; later, she will become a nun.
As is typical in boxes of this period, the interior depicts an unrelated scene: a Chinese-style landscape likely based on a screen design by an artist of the Kano or Unkoku school.