An unusual four-case inro, the subject of which had me completely bamboozled. I’ve searched my own archives, books and other sources to find a similar piece, but to no avail.
The ground is in a repeating zigzag pattern in shades of gold and silver. In high relief are takamakie cartouches, three to each side, with various designs that I at first thought could be mon. Two probably are, but one contains a monkey, which could allude to a zodiac theme of the Year of the Monkey. The cord runners are decorated with scrolling tendrils in gold hiramakie.
I turned to a trusted source of information, Mieko Gray – you will find her mentioned in the acknowledgements page of many a catalogue. She has helped me and others to unlock hidden meanings in art and can translate even the most obscure signatures. We went back and forth on this one for some time. Mieko came forward with the theory below, which is by far the best we have.
Kusudama are ornamental scented balls for good luck. Originally, they were woven from very high-quality materials such as silk, satin and various other textiles. The traditional ones are treated as auspicious objects and are very much sought-after. Today, they are produced from cheaper materials such as origami paper.
Our theory is that the zigzag pattern ground represents the thread weaving of a Kusudama ball and the cartouches are the balls themselves. Several other lacquered inro, trays and also a handful of prints exist depicting these balls.
The internal compartments are lacquered in old style nashiji and gold fundame.
Early 18th century
Height: 6.4cm Width: 4.9cm Depth: 2cm
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