Bookshelf with a Scene of the Yoshino Palace


Bookshelf with a Scene of the Yoshino Palace

lacquer work / Edo

Edo period, 18th century

Lacquered wood

幅90.0 奥行37.5 高75.5


Modern bookshelves are usually crammed with books, but this wooden bookshelf served a more ornamental purpose, namely that of providing a unique space to display books in a beautiful manner. Patterns were painted on the surface using the sap of the Japanese lacquer tree, with fine gold and silver powder then sprinkled on top.

The top plate is decorated with cherry blossoms, while the double doors to the bottom right feature a garden-and-palace design. Though the bookshelf looks gold from a distance, a closer look reveals a rich variety of materials and techniques. On the double doors, for example, the gold of the palace corridor and the ground below exudes a different atmosphere from the gold of the sky. Extremely fine gold powder has been sprinkled on and burnished to create the sheen of the palace and ground, while an abundance of larger flakes has been used for the coarse texture of the sky. Furthermore, coral has been cut and inlaid in the surface to create the vivid red camellia blossoms on the bottom left of the double doors. The cloisonne technique has also been employed, with enamels painted onto metal and then fired to create the vivid hues of the plum branches adorning the door hinges and the sides of the top plate and shelves. The extravagant use of so many materials and techniques is a characteristic feature of this era.

Objects like this were designed to be used as well as appreciated. The most striking feature is the ingenuity of the details that only emerge when the bookshelf is being used, such as when the doors are opened or books placed on the shelves. The enjoyment of the work is enhanced by imagining yourself using it and viewing the details up close.

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