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Incense Container (kogo) with Two Interior Boxes

Incense Box
Incense Container (kogo) with Two Interior Boxes
Japan, Edo period, 19th century
Lacquer on wood with gold and silver maki-e decoration
Gift of Alvin John Accola in memory of Katharine Mize Accola

Ivy vines and snowflakes form the design motif on the cover of this incense container. The realistic vine leaves and tendrils move gracefully over the stylized snow-flakes to form an asymmetrical but balanced composition. The two inner boxes are decorated on their tops with wave-tossed rafts bearing cherry blossoms and maple leaves (hana-ikada), and on their sides with an octagonal tortoise-shell motif, while all the black-lacquered interiors are embellished with evenly dispersed flakes of gold.

The virtuosity of the lacquer artist is displayed in the number of maki-e (sprinkled design) techniques that have been used to decorate these small containers. The vine leaves, some of the snowflakes, and the rafts are in slight relief (takamaki-e); the raised lines of the grasses over the snow-flakes, raised veining of the leaves, and the undulating waves illustrate the tsukegaki technique, while accents of carefully placed small squares of gold leaf (okibir-ame) are visible on some of the leaves and on the dark snowflake near the center, which is colored with a mixture of silver and charcoal dust (gin kuro). The background of the outer box is nashiji (pear-skin ground), with the densely sprinkled gold flecks suspended in translucent amber-colored lacquer.

The four seasons are represented in the design motifs of the three boxes. One notices a few petals from the cherry blossoms floating on the waves, imparting a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of the transience of beauty, which was a prevailing theme in the art of the Edo period.

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