Portable Writing Cabinet with Tokugawa Family Crests, Chrysanthemums, and Foliage Scrolls

Artist: Kōami School

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: late 17th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Lacquered wood with gold and silver takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, and applied gold foil on nashiji ground

Dimensions: H. 9 in. (22.9 cm); W. 8 1/2 in. (21.6 cm); D. 14 5/8 in. (37.1 cm)

Classification: Lacquer

Credit Line: Bequest of Stephen Whitney Phoenix, 1881

Accession Number: 81.1.133a–h


This portable writing box has three drawers; the two upper ones are for paper and documents, while the one at the bottom holds the inkstone, water dropper, and brushes. The cabinet is elaborately decorated with the highest quality maki-e (“sprinkled pictures”). It was produced for the Tokugawa family in one of their official maki-e workshops, probably that of the Kōami family. The chrysanthemum flowers are depicted almost individually, each executed in a different hue or maki-e (flat or relief pattern) technique emphasizing the layered petal structure. Some of the flowers are shown frontally, others from the side or the back. Chrysanthemums, which represent both longevity and autumn, are often featured in classical Japanese poetry.