Gold lacquer kogo in byobu form
Length: 3.5" (8.9 cm) Japan, early 19th century (Edo period)
Ex Charles A. Greenfield collection

Screen play...

The gorgeous Japanese gold lacquer kogo (container for precious incense) depicted here exhibits a sophisticated play on image and meaning. The unique perspective consists of two opened byobu (folding screens), one partially in front of the other. The dynamic silhouette that results from the two four-fold forms is matched by the breathtaking imagery on each "screen". Even the traditional textile borders of the byobu are reproduced in lacquer, with an Imperial chrysanthemum pattern.

Joined forms often have a marital allusion in Japanese art, and this is enhanced by the motif of the screen in the foreground. Mandarin ducks, a symbol of wedded bliss as they mate for life, are shown in a charming scene executed in flawless togidashi (flush design lacquer) technique. The ducks swim on a rippled pond, beneath snow-covered plum trees that represent longevity. The screen in the background depicts the full harvest moon of autumn, with its promise of abundance. This portrayal of the moon (favorite in the painterly tradition) is formed by the artist with silver takamaki-e (relief lacquer). The sides of the kogo are finished in stunning gyobu-nashiji, a mosiac effect of irregular gold flakes artfully placed individually.