Wood, with decoration in gold hiramaki-e and takamaki-e on a black-lacquer ground With fitted wooden tomobako box inscribed outside: 'Tray with maki-e decoration of ferns'; seals: Heian (Kyoto) and Made...
Wood, with decoration in gold hiramaki-e and takamaki-e on a black-lacquer ground
With fitted wooden tomobako box inscribed outside: "Tray with maki-e decoration of ferns"; seals: Heian (Kyoto) and Made by Minoya
Over a lustrous polished black-lacquer ground, the specialist craftsmen who decorated this tray used different mixtures of gold and silver powder to emulate the contrasting shades typically seen on either side of fern leaves, while the stems were executed in a special version of takamaki-e (high-relief lacquering) that reproduces the rough texture seen in real-life ferns. The spare, elegant design is concentrated on the left-hand side, where leaves and stems spread over the rims and onto the sides; at top and right the plants are made to fit within the confines of the tray, an arrangement that combines naturalism with acute design sense in a way that marks this tray as an outstanding example of twentieth-century Kyoto lacquer design. Rectangular trays like this one, with relatively high sides, are known in Japanese as hirobuta and were used to present formal gifts of clothes and other items.
The lid of the tray’s storage box bears the seal of the Minoya studio, founded in 1772 and one of the finest lacquer workshops in Kyoto. Minoya brought together, under one roof, all the skills required for the production of high-class maki-e, from preparation of the wooden core through to completion of the last layer of decoration. The business thrived during the Meiji and Taisho eras and as late as 1943, at the height of World War II, was able to fulfill an order for a complete set of lacquer ware for the wedding of Princess Terunomiya (Shigeko), eldest daughter of the Emperor, to Prince Higashikuni. Realizing that it would no longer be possible to maintain its high standards in the changed social and economic climate of the postwar era, in 1945 Inagaki Sōichirō, the owner of Minoya, closed the business and in 1990 its collections were given to Kyoto National Museum. The 260 donated items, including trade samples, pieces from the private collection of each head of the family, and detailed catalogues, together form an invaluable archive relating to the history of the Kyoto lacquer industry during the later Edo period and the modern era.