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Small lacquer box with shagreen inlays and references to poetry in hira-maki-e

Early Edo period, 1st half 17th century


H. 8.7 x W. 13 x D. 11,3 cm

Despite its modest size, this charming box features a richness in inlay materials and quality in maki-e that is rare amongst export lacquer from the seventeenth century. The viewer is first struck by the pristine white ray skin inlays or samegawa ground, further enriched by small cherry blossom cut-outs of ivory, gold, and silver sheet metal. The wind-swept petals surround five cartouches with beautiful hira-maki-e scenes on solemn black backgrounds. Several motifs are instantly recognizable, such as the flower cart taken straight from the Tale of Genji and the chrysanthemums growing through the ‘Eastern Fence’ in the famous poem by Tao Qian. Such profoundly Asian cultural references would have hardly rang a bell amongst the European clientele. Yet, the undeniable quality of the piece suggests that it was destined for a European nobleman or -lady, a suspicion further reinforced by the application of metal fittings of the type favoured by early French collectors of Japanese lacquer.

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