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Document Box (ryoshi-bako)

Accession Number
1972/2.108

Title
Document Box (ryoshi-bako)

Artist(s)
Japanese

Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
1615-1868

Medium & Support
black lacquer and abalone shell inlay on wood

Dimensions
5 5/8 in. x 16 1/2 in. x 13 1/16 in. ( 14.29 cm x 41.91 cm x 33.18 cm )

Credit Line
Transfer from the College of Architecture and Design

Label copy
Gallery Rotations Fall 2012
Document box
(Ryôshi-bako)
Japan, Edo period
(1615–1868)
19th century
Black lacquer and abalone shell inlay on wood
Transfer from the College of Architecture and Design, 1972/2.108
A ryôshi-bako or document box holds important documents,
letters, or even writing utensils such as paper, brushes, and ink. The surface of this box is densely decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay decoration combining geometric patterns, flowers, dragons, and scepters. Since dragons are a Buddhist symbol of enlightenment and scepters are used in Buddhist rituals, it is
likely that this box once belonged to a Buddhist institution. Mother-of-pearl inlays also are frequently used in a Buddhist context in both Japan and Korea.
JAPAN CHAT
Lacquer ware from Japan and the Ryûkyû Islands
Lacquer, made from the sap of a type of of sumac (Rhus vernicifera), requires both skill and patience to apply. On a base material, usually wood, a thin layer is brushed on and allowed to dry completely before being polished with charcoal sticks; this process is repeated multiple times until a hard, smooth surface is achieved. Lacquer is not just aesthetically pleasing; it serves to protect and waterproof wood.
Lacquer ware and the technique for producing it were first transmitted from China to Japan during the sixth century, at the same time that Buddhism was introduced, and by the sixteenth century it was flourishing as one of the decorative arts favored by the military elite and wealthy merchant class. After the tenth century lacquer luxury objects were embellished with intricate decorations including carving, painting, engraving, inlay with metals, shells, or colored lacquers, and maki-e (meaning “sprinkled picture”), in which a design is painstakingly created with an application of gold powder.
Lacquer was introduced from China to its tributary kingdom of the Ryûkyû Islands (now modern Okinawa prefecture in southwestern Japan) in the fourteenth century by thirty-six families of shipbuilders sent there by the Ming (1368–1644) court. Used at first to waterproof ships, it soon flourished into a distinctive art. The Ryûkyû Islands produced lacquer ware densely adorned with gold engraving and mother-of-pearl inlay, in which high quality mollusk shells (such as abalones and oysters) were cut into different shapes and then laid on wet lacquer to form geometric patterns; when dry, the surface was polished to ensure a seamless appearance. Some of the best mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer wares in East Asia were created by Ryûkyû Island artists.
The Japanese and Ryûkû Island lacquer wares in this gallery include selections from the renowned collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Subject matter
A ryôshi-bako or document box holds important documents,
letters, or even writing utensils such as paper, brushes, and ink.

Physical Description
Lacquer ware box with mother-of-pearl inlay decoration combining geometric patterns, flowers, dragons, and scepters.

Primary Object Classification
Decorative Arts

Primary Object Type
lacquer

Additional Object Classification(s)
Wood and Woodcarving

Collection Area
Asian

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
boxes (containers)
flowers (plant components)

1 Related Resource

Japan Pax Tokugawa 1600-1868
(Part of: Empires and Colonialism)

& Author Notes

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