Inrô with design of silk spool in the Milky Way (the Tanabata Story of the Weaver and Herder), 19th century
Kyûkoku (Japanese)Mother–of–pearl, gold; ojime: silver and gold quail in autumn grasses; netsuke: carved ivory flowers and grasses with silver butterflies; inrô: H. 3 7/8 in. (9.8 cm), W. 2 11/16 in. (6.9 cm), D. 13/16 in. (2 cm); netsuke: H. 11/16 in. (1.7 cm), Diam. 1 11/16 in. (4.3 cm); ojime: H. 9/16 in. (1.5 cm), W. 9/16 in. (1.4 cm)
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.878a,b)
One of the relatively large pieces of mother-of-pearl that comprise the surface of this inrô was colored with gold and incised to create an image of a silk spool, identifying the background imagery as a representation of the Milky Way. The spool refers to the Weaver Maiden Star, who is tragically separated by the Milky Way from her lover, the Cowherd Star. The two are allowed to meet only once a year, a union that is the basis for Tanabata, or the Star Festival, in Japan.