National TreasureWriting Box with Eight Bridges

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  • 八橋蒔絵螺鈿硯箱
  • By Ogata Kourin
  • 1 set
  • lacquered wood
  • L27.3 W19.7 H14.2
  • Edo period/18th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • H-86

This writing box (J. suzuribako) is by Ogata Kôrin (1658-1716), a leading artist of the Rinpa School who carried on the approach of Hon'ami Kôetsu (1558-1637) while establishing his own individual style.

The overall shape is rectangular with rounded corners, and the lid fits over the body. The upper tier of this two-tier box holds in the middle an inkstone with a gold rim and a rectangular copper water dropper. The lower tier is used to hold paper.

The design is derived from a scene in "Eight Bridges," chapter nine of the Tales of Ise (J. Ise monogatari), a subject much loved and often depicted by Kôrin. The surface of the box is covered with black lacquer, and the lid and sides of the body are decorated with irises and plank bridges. Thick pieces of abalone shell are used for the iris blossoms, and the leaves and reeds are represented in gold makie (metal powder or flakes sprinkled in lacquer). The plank bridges employ lead strips corroded to give a sense of texture, and the bridge posts are made of silver strips. Although flowing water is not represented on the lid or sides, the bottoms of the two tiers inside have a wave pattern executed in gold makie.

The viewpoint of the picture on the outside of the lid is on a diagonal from above, while the continuous bridge on the four sides is composed as if seen from directly overhead; overall, however, the impression is not unnatural. By contrasting black with silver and gold, and with a composition that mines the essence of the theme, this is a bold creation expressed with Kôrin's delicate sensibility and fine precision.