Chest with crest of the Mōri family

Anonymous artist

Anonymous artist - Chest with crest of the Mōri family
The six-foot Chinese-style chest, karabitsu, was produced by applying layers of lacquer to a background of pressed canvas. The sparing decorative colours on a dark background executed in flat lacquer hiramaki-e and the aristocratic emblem mon of the vassal family Mōri from the Aki Province, which is the main motif, suggest the chest may have been owned by one of the offsprings of this ancient family. Nevertheless, mons were commonly used as decorative motifs starting in the 18th century. Lavish floral ornaments executed in the same technique are placed around the Japanese characters and at the outer corners of the chest. The style of this karabitsu is reminiscent of the so-called early period when these chests were usually adorned in various inlays on a black lacquer background. Later, karabitsu chests were also made of red engraved lacquer emulating ancient Chinese lacquer. The chest’s purpose could vary – it might serve as furniture to store scrolls or garments or as a family treasury for jewellery and other valuables. Such chests were often used on travels to transport assets of special value. Although the name karabitsu suggests it was adopted from China, its origin and genesis are a mystery. The first records documenting the chest’s use come from the Nara period (710–794). Karabitsu chests also served to keep valuables in Buddhist monasteries and Shintō shrines. Their shape and dimensions were relatively fixed. Their use is documented in many scrolls depicting court and aristocratic family life.
measurements: height 57,4 cm
width 84,6 cm
depth 51,6 cm
material: Wood, linen, copper fittings
technique: Lacquer decorated with hiramakie, usuniku takamakie, nunomenuri and nashiji techniques
inventory number: Vu 470
gallery collection: Collection of Asian and African Art