National TreasureToiletry Case with Cart Wheels in Stream

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  • 片輪車蒔絵螺鈿手箱
  • 1 set
  • lacquered wood
  • L22.4 W30.6 H13.5
  • Heian period/12th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • H-4282

A representative masterpiece of lacquerware from the Heian period (794-1185), this exquisite toiletry case (J. tebako) is a relatively small example with a lid that fits over the body of the box. The theme of its design of cart wheels in a stream reflects the Heian practice of soaking the wheels of ox carts in water to prevent them from drying out and cracking. A popular theme during the Heian period, this design can also be found on mirrors and the embellished paper used for decorated sutra scrolls.

The exterior design comprises a ground of irregularly-shaped gold particles sprinkled densely on black lacquer, on which are depicted the flowing waters and soaking cart wheels represented with gold in aogin togidashi makie and mother-of-pearl inlay (J. raden). For the lacquer technique of togidashi makie, metal powder such as gold or silver is sprinkled on a design executed in lacquer upon which an additional coat of lacquer is applied; after hardening, the entire surface is polished to expose the design. Aogin, a blue-tinted gold color, is a mixture of gold and silver that produces a striking, variable hue depending on the light. Raden is a technique in which materials such as mother-of-pearl are cut into a design and then applied to an object covered with lacquer. The openwork silver fittings on the side of the case are in the same ox-wheel design, and the interior of the box and lid are covered with flying birds and floral motifs in togidashi makie.