Writing Box Pontoon bridge design in [maki-e] lacquer

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Writing Box Pontoon bridge design in [maki-e] lacquer

lacquer work / Edo

By Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637)

Edo period, 17th century

1合

National Treasure

This is a box used to store writing implements like inkstones, water droppers, ink brushes, and paper knives. It creates a striking impression with its high, domed lid and bold, close-up depictions of boats and a bridge.

The surface of the lid uses a technique known as ikakeji, whereby a lacquered surface is covered by a dense sprinkling of gold powder and then polished. It also features waves rendered using the tsukegaki technique, whereby lines are drawn in sticky lacquer and then sprinkled with gold powder. The boats are crossed diagonally by a large bridge made from a strip of lead. The lid also features randomly-arranged Chinese characters created from thick cut-out strips of silver. The characters quote a poem by the Heian-period noble Minamoto Hitoshi. The original poem featured the characters for 'pontoon bridge,' but these are omitted here and instead represented by the design itself.

The artist Hon'ami Koetsu was active in Kyoto during the early 17th century. Though born into a family of sword polishers, he demonstrated his talents in the fields of calligraphy, pottery, and lacquerware. This mastery is on full display here in the bold shapes and designs, the superior technical skills, and the exquisite sense of balance engendered by the skillful application of gold, silver and lead.

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