Detail View: The AMICA Library: Box Cover

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Creator Nationality: 
Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Name-CRT: 
Box Cover
Full view
Creation Date: 
probably Meiji period (1868-1912)
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
Gold and silver inlays in lacquer on leather
Classification Term: 
Classification Term: 
Creation Place: 
3 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 in. (9.5 x 33.7 x 41.3 cm)
AMICA Contributor: 
Asia Society
Owner Location: 
New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
This box cover is believed to be a Meiji-period reworking of earlier styles. The art of the Meiji period (1868-1912) is not yet well studied. Moreover, although Meiji-period versions of early works are common, material on them is rarely published, probably because it is assumed that copies are inherently less interesting. This hampers a full analysis of the development of Japanese art during the Meiji period and of the role played by the study and imitation of earlier styles.

One exception to the gap in scholarship on Meiji-period art is the study of lacquer, and it is well known that artists working in this medium often copied earlier styles in an attempt to revive and master important and difficult techniques. This lacquer cover, which was presumablyonce part of a box, illustrates the use of the heidatsu technique in which pieces cut from thin gold and silver sheets are inlaid into a lacquer base. This technique is believed to have been developed as early as the Zhou period (1050-221 BCE) in China, and it was important in Japan during the 8th century.

The decoration of this lid reflects 8th-century prototypes. The floral medallion in the center is surrounded by four phoenixes, each of which has a branch in its beak. Plants decorate the edges and sides of the cover, and the area between the top and the sides is filled with small circles that were probably intended to represent pearls. Most of the motifs were made from pieces of cut silver and accented by details from gold sheets. As is common in 8th-century lacquerwares, the substructure of this lid is leather rather than wood or cloth.

While the motifs are typical of 8th-century art, however, the style of decoration points to a much later date. For example, there is no real movement in the treatment of the phoenixes, and they are depicted in a rather unconvincing running position. The composition is static, and the individual elements are treated in a linear fashion that differs from the full, three-dimensional motifs found in 8th-century examples.

Related Document Description: 
Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 100.
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