National TreasureSutra Box with Marquetry

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  • 沈香画経箱
  • 1 piece
  • Wood
  • 19.7x37.6
  • Nara period/8th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • N-71

Marquetry is a technique for creating designs out of thin slices of rosewood, ebony, mulberry, aloeswood, ivory, and other materials. Originating in the mosaic techniques of ancient Egypt and Persia, the style was brought to East Asia and developed as marquetry during the Sui (c. 581-618) and Tang (618-c. 907) dynasties in China.

The entire surface of this marquetry sutra box is inlaid with aloeswood cut into thin diamond and triangle shapes. The borders are lined with ebony enfolded in thin strips of ivory, forming a diagonal fretwork pattern. Because aloeswood, a fragrant wood that is cultivated in southern China and southeast Asia is used, this piece is also known as the Box with Aloeswood Marquetry.

This piece is prized for its simple design and the beauty of its wood grain. Because it is made with raw materials such as aloeswood, ebony, and ivory, brought from all over Asia, it reflects the Japanese interest in foreign countries during this period.