Stationery Box

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Stationery Box

Japan, 17th century
Furnishings; Accessories
Lacquer with maki-e (sprinkled powder design) and mother-of-pearl inlay over wood core
Overall: 5 1/4 x 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 in. (13.3 x 33.7 x 41.3 cm); a) Lid: 1 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 in. (4.4 x 33.7 x 41.3 cm); b) Base: 4 9/16 x 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 in. (11.6 x 33.7 x 41.3 cm)
Gift of the 1988 Collectors Committee (M.88.83a-b)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Reverence for the written word is one of the distinctive features of East Asian civilization....
Reverence for the written word is one of the distinctive features of East Asian civilization. As a result, enormous attention was lavished on the utensils associated with writing: the stationery box, writing box, brush, inkstone, and the ink itself. In Japan, this embellishment of writing utensils was often achieved with lacquer techniques, which are some of Japan ’s greatest contributions to the decorative arts. In particular, maki-e (gold lacquer) and mother-of-pearl inlay were employed to transform lacquer into a medium of unparalleled beauty. This large stationery box was made to hold sheets of handmade Japanese paper and was probably accompanied by a smaller box of similar design, which held the inkstone, brushes, and ink. Boxes of this type were often made for presentation to high officials or aristocrats, and the design scheme was typically of some auspicious motif such as birds and flowers. This box, however, is covered with a scene of farmers transplanting seedlings into rice paddies, a design known to occur on only three other boxes from the seventeenth century. The artist executed this rare genre scene in various techniques of gold lacquer; mother-of-pearl is used exclusively for the seedlings, whether already transplanted, in the hands of the farmers, or still bunched in the basket on the back of the ox. Another unusual feature of this box is the artist’s three-dimensional composition: the path between the rice paddies (with their stylized ripples) meanders down three sides of the box, emphasizing the volume and mass of the object. The artist has given careful consideration both to the box’s surface decoration and to its distinctive shape.
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