Tiered food box, Nagoya c.1860. Museum no. 895-1869

Tiered food box, Nagoya c.1860. Museum no. 895-1869

Tiered food box (Japanese: jūbako)
Unsigned
Nagoya, Japan
c.1860
Height 19.7cm
Museum no. 895-1869

This vessel was also purchased at the Paris International Exposition of 1867 for the extremely high price of £60.00. The type, style, and application of the enamels all have many similar features to another early cloisonné vessel in the Museum's collection although the decoration here is in more regular patterns. The workmanship of this piece, however, is more extensive and all of the bases of the tiers are enamelled with Chinese Grass (Japanese: karakusa) scrolls and fans; the lower base of this food box has an applied mosaic-like Japanese character for 'Good Luck' in coloured enamels. The top of the lid has a scene of cranes and pines, both symbols of longevity, on the legendary mountain-island Horai, a place of eternal youth and immortality.

Both this and the former piece are recorded as purchased from 'The Tycoon's Government' and described as 'antique Japanese'.  The 'Tycoon's government' was the Tokugawa shogunate in its final days of power and the vessels were either contemporary, or had been made within the previous ten years. They represent some of the earliest examples of larger-scale cloisonné made in Japan since the renaissance of the craft by Kaji Tsunekichi. Both pieces are characterised by dull enamels on a blue ground and by the use of large numbers of background wires. We do not know who made them, but they are likely to have been produced in Nagoya, possibly even by Kaji.