Sutra Box (Kyōbako) with Sun and Clouds


Not on view

This rectangular sutra box has a deep lid covering the three inside tiers. On the longer sides of the lid are rounded openings (kurigata), where the lid should be held when opening or closing the box. The bottom tier has a low foot, fortified by gilded bronze fittings with lotus flowers applied around the corners and along the sides. The silk cord that would hold the lid in place was attached to gilded bronze fittings on the longer sides. These are also in the shape of a lotus flower, an essential Buddhist symbol representing enlightenment. The rounded corners, the soft curvature of the lid, and the structure of the box reflect earlier, Kamakura period sensibilities. The wooden core of the box is covered in numerous foundation layers and finished with several layers of black lacquer. The outside of the lid is embellished with a sun disc, partially covered by clouds in gold hiramaki-e (flat “sprinkled picture”). Clusters of auspicious cloud motifs, reminiscent of lingzhi mushrooms (associated with longevity), can be seen floating on the inside of the lid and on the sutra trays, also in gold maki-e. This dignified box was designed to hold rolled-up sutra scrolls.

The first impression of the sutra box conveys strength and magnificence due to the materials and the admirable workmanship. The striking contrast of the shiny black lacquer surface and the softly glowing gold patterns create an almost abstract expression. Around the 13th and 14th centuries, the lacquer craftsmen successfully developed a new type of gold powder that consisted of round particles (marufun), with which they could produce an intensely shiny gold ground, as we can see on this sutra box. Another characteristic of this style is the assertive, almost monochrome gold, however with variously sized particles and different types of powder, the artist was able to create a different texture and hue for the sun and the cloud. The sun has a warmer, reddish tone, while the clouds are lighter yellow.

Sutra Box (Kyōbako) with Sun and Clouds, Lacquered wood with gold hiramaki-e; gilt bronze fittings, Japan

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