Japanese lacquered boxes, in the eyes of Vanessa Rau

Inro, kogo, natsume, bento, there are a multitude of boxes in Japan... To place ointments, incense, tea, delicacies, or to hide secrets, Japanese boxes are also a great playground for lacquer artists . Vanessa Rau looks today at a superb lacquered wooden box from the Edo era.

We are in the presence of a carved and lacquered wooden box. The rim is silver, which is typical of very noble boxes. The interior and the underside are in nashiji, a lacquer based on gold powder, which shows the very high quality of the workmanship. The decoration is made with a solid black on the base, on which several lacquer techniques are used, in particular that of maki-e, which uses metallic powders, spread with bamboo tubes or fine brushes on the still wet lacquer.

The decor, very poetic, presents an enclosed garden with a palisade behind which are young shoots of weeping willows and cherry blossoms, which means that we are in spring. Squares of gold leaf are affixed to give a volume effect and suggest herbs on the small mound. This decor is linked to the box, the garden is closed, like the box that contains its secrets. The work in takamaki-e, that is to say in relief, brings the decor to life.

In Japan, we always find in the sets, a detail that anchors the scene in a season. This important relationship with nature comes from Shinto, an animist religion in which nature holds a central place. Japan is an extremely violent country in terms of nature. Typhoons, tidal waves, earthquakes, very hot and humid summers… The Japanese are aware that nature remains the only mistress and that everything is ephemeral.

Technical prowess and virtuosity of the realization question us on the relationship to time that Japanese craftsmen maintained. During the sakoku period of the Edo era when the country was completely closed in on itself for 250 years, the Japanese had time to develop their art to the maximum. This box is a perfect testimony.