Box for Personal Accessories (Tebako) with Chrysanthemums and Paulownia Flowers


Not on view

This exquisite box has a traditional rectilinear structure featuring rounded corners and slightly curved sides with the inner tray supporting the lid. The lacquer surfaces are decorated with gold chrysanthemum and paulownia flowers executed in the incised or sunken gold (chinkin) technique on a black ground. The fine details of the petals and leaves are expressed in thin lines, carefully carved into the thickly built-up black lacquer layers. The refined composition is designed to show the motifs facing upwards on each side of the lid, creating a perfectly symmetrical arrangement centered around a larger paulownia flower surrounded by four chrysanthemums. Both the chrysanthemum and the paulownia are auspicious motifs associated with longevity. They are also used as family crests. The box is further embellished with two finely crafted gilt metal fittings in the shape of paulownia blossoms. The box has an inner tray that originally would have held smaller boxes for facial powder, eyebrow paint, and lip color as well as various cosmetic utensils. The inner tray and the inside of the box is covered in black lacquer. The measurements, structure, and execution of the box and the brocade-like, dense pattern reflects Muromachi period aesthetic sensibilities inspired by earlier traditions.

Chinkin means “incised” or “sunken gold” in Japanese, as the patterns are engraved into the lacquer surface and decorated with applying gold leaf or gold powder pressed into the incisions, using the adhesive power of lacquer (urushi). The technique was transmitted from China to Japan in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), when expensive imported Chinese lacquers became collectibles as karamono, “Chinese things.” First, Japanese craftsmen created copies of the Chinese examples. Then, by the Muromachi period, they developed their own style and favored iconography. The technique requires high precision, as only the uppermost lacquer layers are engraved, the foundation layers should not be exposed. Sharp knives and chisels are used the create the delicate incisions, the depth and width are carefully adjusted to the pattern which is transferred to the surface with paper. As mistakes can’t be easily corrected, carving is a very unforgiving process. Once the carving is done, a thin brush is used to apply (red) lacquer into the incisions, then gold leaf or gold powder is pressed into the lines. The adhesive power of the lacquer keeps the gold in place, while the excess gold can be brushed off from the surfaces outside the incised design. The process is very time-consuming and requires many years of practice.

Box for Personal Accessories (Tebako) with Chrysanthemums and Paulownia Flowers, Lacquered wood with incised gold (chinkin-bori); gilt bronze fittings, Japan

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