A Rare & Unusual Japanese Gold Lacquer Suzuribako. Early Edo Period
8 1/4 x 6 1/2 x 1 1/2 ins. (20.9 x 16.5 x 3.2 cms) The main interest of this very unusual box resides in the rather extraordinary design. With some exceptions most lacquer design is of a static nature which given the painstaking and slow method of working the lacquer is hardly surprising. However, in the present design considerable imagination and ingenuity has been applied to give the scene a sense of dynamic movement. The design features a seaside or lakeside scene of rocks and reeds interspersed with representations of turbulent water. Across the scene are strung a series of six bird scarers suspended from a rope which is attached to slim and stunted tree trunks. The traditional Japanese bird scarers are wood with loose metal clappers which strike the wood when agitated by the movement of air. The turbulent water together with the windblown clappers which are depicted at different angles are what give the design its powerful sense of movement. What the scarers are protecting is not obvious, given the presence of rocks and the rough water it is unlikely to be rice.
Another unusual feature of the design is the incorporation of the 3-comma tomoe (mitsudomoe) device into the design. This device occurs six times, twice on the lid, three times on the sides of the lid and once on the edge of the base. For the significance of the tomoe see Wikipedia under "Tomoe". Its significance in the design is unclear, whether the artist intended it as mere decorative or it functions as a mon relating to a specific Daimyo family is difficult to say. The device features in one form or another in several family mon. According to Weber's Kojihoten the anticlockwise mon is associated with four princely families, Itotsu, Saionji, Tamamatsu and Tani.
The design is finely executed in gold takamakie (raised lacquer), the rocks are emphasised with silver kirigane (tiny pieces of silver, much of it oxidised as is to be expected) and the supporting tree trunks with gold kirigane. Three of the bird scarers are inlaid mother of pearl (raden) with lacquer clappers and the remaining three with lacquer scarers with mother of pearl clappers. The interior and underneath is undecorated black lacquer. As is frequently the case the lacquer artist has made things as difficult as possible for himself by continuing the design on the side of the cover into the tiny angle of the beading on the lower edge. The skill required to accomplish this is truly mind-boggling!
As can be seen in the photographs the box has been well used with rubbing on the cover, various bruising and "dings", three of the canted corners of the cover have splits, a surface crack in the black interior of the cover which does not penetrate to the outside. The suiteki (water dropper) which has a damaged and repaired spout, is not the original but probably contemporary with the box. The box came with an old label (now detached) with the written number 28, probably an old collection number. Dating early lacquer is difficult but it probably dates to the latter part of the 17th. century.
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