It is thought that boxes for writing implements, larger boxes for stationery, and tables were travel accessories for the feudal lords of southern Japan who controlled much of the trade between Japan and the Ryūkyū Islands to the south during the Edo period. Ryūkyūan lacquer craftsmen used locally harvested mother-of-pearl, prized for its superior color, to create inlaid works for patrons in the islands, China, and Japan.

The pairing of squirrels with grapes is a visual pun for longevity. It was an exceedingly popular motif throughout East Asia in paintings and the decorative arts from the seventeenth century onward. Here the undulating edge of the writing box is a sensitive complement to the incised inlay intertwined with painted gold embellishment.
Artist Ryukyuan, Japanese
  • Box for Writing Implements
Date 17th Century
Medium Lacquer, wood, mother-of-pearl, gold
Dimensions Overall: 2 3/8 × 8 1/2 × 10 1/2 inches (6 × 21.6 × 26.7 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase with funds from Collins Holding Company, Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Endicott and an anonymous donor
Accession Number 81.683.A
Department Asian Art
Not On View
Okura sale, Christie's Tokyo, 15 Feb 1981, lot 435
ORIENTAL LACQUER WORKS, Tokyo: Tokyo National Museum, 1977, fig 361.

COMMEMORATIVE CATALOGUE OF ORIENTAL LACQUER ARTS, Tokyo: Tokyo National Museum, 1977, fig 199.

Hirokazu, A., KOBIJUTSU 56, 1979, fig 8.

CHRISTIE'S AUCTION CATALOGUE, Feb 1981, Tokyo, lot 435.

DIA BULLETIN, vol 59, nos 2/3, 1981, pp 57-65, p 63 (ill).

Herbert, John (ed.), CHRISTIES REVIEW OF THE SEASON 1981, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981, p 389 (ill).

Mitchell, S.W., "The Asian Collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts", ORIENTATIONS, vol 13, no 5, May 1982, pp 14-36, fig 20.

Mitchell, S., "A portfolio of East Asian lacquers," APOLLO, vol 124, no 298, Dec., 1986, p 78, (ill).