Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807–1891)
Lacquer with maki-e
16 1/8 x 9 x 9 5/8 in. (41 x 22.9 x 24.4 cm)
Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift and Parnassus Foundation / Jane and Raphael Bernstein Gift, 2010 (2010.143a–g)
This multitiered lacquer box, called a jubako, is one of only sixteen known to have been produced by the artist Shibata Zeshin, a lacquer master and painter known for his inventive sense of design. Zeshin studied lacquer under Koma Kan'ya (Kansai II) from the age of eleven and trained in the painting style of the Shijo school under Okamoto Toyohiko. His works capture the dynamism of the popular culture of the capital of Edo (now Tokyo) during the transition from military to imperial rule. In the final year of his life, Zeshin had the honor of being appointed an artist of the imperial household.
This box, designed for the storage of sumptuous edibles presented at festive occasions, has a continuous design across its five tiers of summer and autumn fruits, including grapes, melons, loquats, and pears. In its execution, Zeshin demonstrated his virtuosity with the lacquer medium. The lacquer ground is a rich, very dark brown decorated with colored layers in a variety of maki-e techniques. Two interchangeable lids feature independent designs on their surfaces. The interiors of both lids are signed Zeshin in raised black lacquer characters and sealed Tairyuko (the name of Zeshin's workshop in Edo) in red lacquer.