Lacquer

JAPANESE lacquer is a form of art which at the present moment is, perhaps, not held in such general favor as twenty years ago, but even the most uninterested observer cannot fail to be impressed by the high quality and impeccable workmanship of the specimens shown in CASES L AND M of GALLERY 4. These examples of enamel on wood date from the later phase of the craft in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and a number of the Altman pieces are signed by the best known lacquerers of the time, who were distinguished by super excellent skill in the use of materials. Among the pieces of aventurine or gold-flaked lacquer the most noteworthy are the long gift-box, No. 46, ornamented with Daimio crests and formerly the property of a member of the Tachibana clan; the rare 0-bento-bako or lunch basket, No. 47; and the pair of incense-holders in the forms of male and female mandarin ducks, No. 48, symbols of conjugal happiness. Many of the smaller boxes were made for the comfits used in Cha-no-yu, or ceremonial tea. The black mirror case, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, No. 49, is a decorative and early piece following the Chinese mode of ornament, while the fine inro or medicine case made to hang at the belt, No. 50, typifies the more boldly patterned lacquer of the Tokugawa period at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The oval box, No. 51, is in the style of the Liu-kiu islands to the south of Japan.

In CASE M are three iron and bronze sword-guards of good quality, Nos. 52 and 53 having a background of nanako or “fish-roe” and dating from the early nineteenth century, while No. 54 is about forty years older and was made for a sword belonging to some member of the Daté family of Sendai. The metal knife-handles in this case are works of the same time and the same craft which produced the three sword-guards. Most of these small objects were made for and preserved as delicate examples of the armorer’s art, more suitable for the collector’s cabinet than for hard usage. Such handles were changed from time to time on the same blade, amateurs keeping a large reserve store of them for various occasions. The combination of finely wrought gold or silver ornament on a rugged iron ground, found not only in sword guards but in much other metalwork of the period, was a contrast of which Japanese art in the eighteenth century was especially fond.