Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Stacked Food Box (Jūbako) with Taro Plants and Chrysanthemums

Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807–1891)
late Edo (1615–1868)–early Meiji (1868–1912) period
mid-19th century
Lacquered wood, gold and silver hiramaki-e, takamaki-e, and colored togidashimaki-e
H. 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm); W. 9 in. (22.9 cm); D. 9 5/8 in. (24.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Accession Number:
Not on view
This food box was designed for a celebratory meal, such as New Year’s feast. It comes with two lids so that the boxes can be easily separated into two sets. The decorative, modern design consists of taro plants (satoimo) and chrysanthemum flowers.

Shibata Zeshin was renowned for both his lacquer works and paintings. Because he started his career in the Edo period and worked through the early Meiji period, he crossed not only the boundaries of various media but also transmitted Edo-period techniques and design sensibilities to modern lacquer artists. Zeshin was trained by Koma Kansai II (1767–1835), a prominent member of the Koma family of maki-e artists, and studied with Shijō-school painters. His interest in sketching from nature reflected in his detailed compositions of natural themes.
This elegant set of jūbako (stacked food boxes) was made by Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891), a lacquer master and painter celebrated for the originality of his designs (cat. no. 122). Zeshin began his study of the art of lacquer at the age of eleven in Edo. His teacher was Koma Kan'ya (Kansai II, 1767–1835), a member of the Koma school, which served the Tokugawa shogunate and had a long tradition of lacquer-making. Zeshin also received training in the naturalistic style of painting developed by artists of the Shijō school (cat. no. 117); that background and his own interest in sketching from nature are reflected in the detailed depictions of flowers and plants that appear in much of his work.[1] Zeshin was innovative in his use of the lacquer medium for painting as well as for the production of functional and decorative objects. He added the unusual and difficult urushi-e (lacquer painting) technique to his repertory during the 1870s and 1880s.

Zeshin's career spanned the closing years of the Tokugawa regime and the beginning of the era initiated by the restoration of imperial rule in 1868, after which there was,increased cultural and economic exchange with the West. Zeshin benefited from this climate of openness and was encouraged to exhibit abroad. A prolific artist, he earned international recognition with the lacquer plaques that were exhibited at expositions in Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), and Paris (1899).[2]

Jūbako were used to store delicacies specially prepared for celebratory occasions. This example is equipped with two lids, so that when necessary the boxes could be separated into two groups. The design on one (opposite) continues the motif of taro leaves seen on the boxes, and that on the other (below) shows a full moon and leaves. The artist's name is engraved on the inside of both lids. In pleasing contrast to the broad, heart-shaped taro leaves, small flowers and scalloped foliage of chrysanthemum plants embellish the lower tiers. Zeshin's dramatic juxtaposition of bold forms against a neutral background reflects his study of techniques used for lacquerwares of the Rinpa school.[3]


[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]

[1] Gōke Tadaomi 1981, vol. 1, pp. 164–65.
[2] Watt and Ford 1991, p. 291.
[3] Ibid., p. 285.
Signature: Zeshin (engraved on the inside of each lid, on plain red lacquer)
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Die Kunst des Alten Japan: Meisterwerke aus der Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," September 16, 1990–November 18, 1990.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30, 2000–June 25, 2000.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–January 22, 2017.

Gōke Tadaomi. Shibata Zeshin meihinshū: Bakumatsu kaikaki no shikkō kaiga (Masterpieces by Shibata Zeshin: Painting and lacquer­ware from the late Edo and early Meiji periods). 2 vols. Tokyo: Gakushū Kenkyūsha, vol. 1, 1981, no. 8.

Avitabile, Gunhild, ed. Die Kunst des alten Japan: Meisterwerke aus der Mary and Jackson Burke Collection, New York. Exh. cat. Frankfurt: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1990, cat. no. 126.

Murase, Miyeko. Jewel Rivers: Japanese Art from the Burke Collection. Exh. cat. Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Art, 1993, cat. no. 73.

Murase, Miyeko. Bridge of Dreams: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, cat. no. 127.
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