The preparation of tea, burning of incense, the requirements of writing, and the use of cosmetics each required receptacles for holding and storing materials necessary for those activities. Seal-paste and powdered incense, the first essential to the calligrapher and the second desirable to have on hand, also needed suitable small containers and a plethora of small multi-functional boxes produced in all media resulted from these needs. Exhibited here are two ceramic boxes, (nos. 38 and 39), an unusual example of carved lacquer (no. 40), one of cloisonné (no. 41), a rare Tang period stone box (no. 42), all joined by a Japanese lacquered box in the shape of a book (no. 43).
The small circular ceramic box here is physically distinguished by a clear, very bright, almost colorless glaze exhibiting a hint of green where it is thickest, the unglazed base revealing the compact white body. A wispy five-petaled blossom is displayed on the cover, highlighted by four carefully placed brown-colored dots. This motif, which at first glance appears either molded or carved, is in fact an appliqué. Almost identical boxes differ only in the motif, where images of moths replace the blossom. While the presence of a moth-decorated box in a Tang period tomb suggests a general date of production for that type, it is also believed that production of these boxes might have continued into the Five Dynasties period. A similar box, larger by about a centimeter, is now in the Tokyo National Museum (fig. 1). Both are decorated with multi-petaled flowers that look like pinwheels with iron-dotted highlights. The place of production remains a mystery, a number of northern provinces laying claim to these whimsical creations.
Fig. 1: Small stoneware box with applied floral motif,
Tang-Five Dynasties period, 10th century,
Tokyo National Museum, after Sekai Tōji Zenshū,
vol. 11 (Sui-Tang), Tokyo, 1976, pl. 95, p. 113.