Writing box (suzuribako) with chrysanthemums and mandarin ducks

Igarashi Fujin 五十嵐不尽 Japanese

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Next to Kyoto and Edo, there was a third major center of lacquer art in the early Edo period: Kanazawa in Kaga Province (present day Ishikawa Prefecture). Around the middle of the seventeenth century, Maeda Toshitsune (1594–1658), the third daimyo of Kaga, summoned the Kyoto-based lacquer master Igarashi Dōho (d. 1678) to his seat of government at Kanazawa. It was Dōho and a few other lacquer artists, including Igarashi Fujin, who established the traditions of the so called Kaga lacquer school. Maki-e lacquer decorated with gold was an especially important genre since Kaga was well-known for its gold mines and its high-quality gold leaf and powder.

This writing box by Igarashi Fujin follows the Kaga maki-e lacquer art lineage style established by Dōho (specializing in sprinkled precious metal powder techniques) but also represents his individual artistic vision. The exterior is embellished with an auspicious composition of chrysanthemums and a river with mandarin ducks. The chrysanthemums are associated with immortality and the legend of Kikujido, the Chrysanthemum Boy. Having been banished from court centuries before, the youth had continued to diligently copy a couplet from the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important scriptures of Buddhism, on chrysanthemum leaves. Unaware of the lapsed time and having drunk from the stream where dew drops from the chrysanthemums had fallen, he was freed from aging and illness. The mandarin ducks are well-known for their stunning plumage and being monogamous, mating for life. Because of this, they became symbols of love and fidelity in East Asia. The combination of these auspicious symbols on the writing box indicates that it could have been a present for a wedding or a birthday. The composition is executed in high-quality maki-e, the chrysanthemum flowers are lovingly depicted in various gold and silver powders, showing the flowers from numerous directions and angles. The texture of the stems and the leaves is expressed in tiny gold leaf cut-outs. The rock in relief maki-e is very eye-catching. The rhythmic representation of the waves in free-hand drawing with lacquer is a mark of a talented maki-e artist. The inside of the box is decorated with an autumn scene with quails among autumn grasses, pine, and maple trees. The box is complete with an inkstone and a silver water dropper in the shape of a chrysanthemum flower.

Writing box (suzuribako) with chrysanthemums and mandarin ducks, Igarashi Fujin 五十嵐不尽 (Japanese, second half of 17th–early 18th century), Lacquered wood with gold, silver takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, togidashimaki-e, and cut-out gold and silver foil application, Japan

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