Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Box with the Poet Narihira

Edo period (1615–1868)
early 19th century
Black lacquer over copper, inlaid with mother-of-pearl
H. 1 in. (2.5 cm); W. 3 3/4 in. ( 9.5 cm); L. 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Accession Number:
Not on view
Metal boxes decorated with pearl shell were produced in Kyoto in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for trade with the Dutch, who had limited access to Japan through the port at Nagasaki. As with this box, which depicts the famed poet Ariwara no Narihira (ca. 825–880) traveling with a young attendant, the imagery often derives from Japanese literature and art and does not reflect the interests of the European audience. Narihira is the hero of the tenth-century Tale of Ise (Ise monogatari), a collection of short narratives and related poems that detail his life and travels. This scene illustrates the eighth chapter, when the poet journeys east in search a new place to live because he has become uncomfortable, for a host of reasons, in the capital, Kyoto.
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