Magnificent Maki-e: Tales of Urushi and Gold over a Thousand Years
2022.04.01(Fri) - 2022.05.08(Sun)
Maki-e, decorative lacquering with gold, silver, and other materials, has been at the pinnacle of Japanese culture over centuries, embodying exquisite beauty.
This exhibition, co-curated by MOA Museum of Art, Mitsui Memorial Museum, and Tokugawa Art Museum, presents the mesmerizing world of maki-e with more than 70 articles of designated national treasures and important cultural properties, covering from works of the Heian period through to contemporary lacquer art.
The first part of the exhibition, organized at MOA Museum of Art, introduces visitors to the select maki-e masterpieces that represent different eras in Japanese history. The Hatsune Trousseau (national treasure, Tokugawa Art Museum) and Small Chinese-style Chest with Mother-of-Pearl and the Sprinkled Picture of Mudplovers (national treasure, Kongōbuji Temple) are a few of the iconic items on display, together with works by Living National Treasures.
In addition, the paintings and calligraphies from relevant eras enrich your journey through the aesthetics nurtured and refined in Japan.
Section 1 The Tale of Genji—Illustrated Scrolls and the Imperial Aesthetics
This section focuses on The Tale of Genji, a set of illustrated scrolls of the namesake piece of literature from the Heian period (9th-12th centuries), when an aristocratic culture flourished centered on the life at the Imperial court, forming a basis of the uniquely Japanese aesthetic taste. These national-treasure scrolls also depict the court life in the nobles’ private quarters to the details such as room decorations and everyday utensils. It was also a period when a set of Japanese phonograms, kana, was developed, and calligraphers prominent in kana writing produced excellent work on decorative paper designed in gold and silver. The Tale of Genji and some calligraphic woks of excellence illustrate the refinement achieved in the Imperial aesthetics in classical Japanese history.
Fragment of calligraphy attributed to Ono no Michikaze (Important Cultural Property), 9th–10th centuries, Heian period, MOA Museum of Art
Section 2 Majestic Deities
Some sumptuously decorated maki-e items were dedicated in religious rituals to celebrate inauguration or renovation of Shinto shrines, or other special occasions. Buddhists also utilized maki-e decorated boxes and cases for the purpose of keeping holy objects, such as sutras and ceremonial utensils. Being precious vessels themselves, these maki-e crafts were passed on for generations within their respective religious establishments.
Small Chinese-style Chest with Mother-of-Pearl and the Sprinkled Picture of Mudplovers (National Treasure), 12th century, Heian period, Kongōbuji Temple (Image courtesy of Koyasan Reihokan Museum)
(Image courtesy of Tokyo National Museum)
(Image courtesy of Tokyo National Museum)
Section 3 Boxes in the Kamakura Period
Techniques of maki-e were enriched during the Kamakura period (1192–1333), together with the invention of some enhanced materials, such as filed fine gold powder (marufun). The result was the textured rendering of designs and more intensive brilliance of the gold, allowing for more nuanced expressions and lustrous effect. It is characteristic of many refined maki-e decorated boxes from this period that they are relatively large and with the content for which they were fabricated. The curation, including Box with fusenryō design in mother-of-pearl inlay and maki-e (national treasure), illustrates the elaboration of maki-e work that epitomizes this period.
Section 4 The Higashiyama Culture—Amalgamation of Maki-e and Literature
The Muromachi period (14th–16th centuries) saw a proliferation of literary pursuits, evidenced in the popular tales (otogizōshi) and the narratives of Noh and Kyōgen repertoires. These offered themes for maki-e designs, and together with the invention of new, highly sophisticated techniques and their combinations, many works of maki-e crafts were produced with designs inspired by literature, such as the exhibited Writing box with design illustrating a poem about Mt. Otokoyama in maki-e.
Section 5 Transformation in the Momoyama period—Lavish Decoration and Foreign Themes
When Japan finally came out of the 160-year period of civil wars and territorial battles, a wave of construction boom arrived, building castles and residents of lords and daimyos. Maki-e was frequently employed to decorate these new estates, applied to fixtures and ornaments. A simplified technique was invented during this period—sprinkling powder gold over wet lacquer and scratching the surface with a needle to delineate the design, which was used to execute bold designs. The lacquerware of this type is known as Kōdaiji maki-e, a notable example being Maki-e lacquered kasho chest with design of autumn plants (important cultural property).
Section 6 Maki-e in the Edo Period
The popularity of maki-e lacquerware diffused from the rich and powerful to common people during the Edo period (17th–19th centuries), particularly among daimyos of varied ranks. Together with the maturity of techniques, the diversity of patrons meant different tastes and designs. This section offers a glimpse of this diversification in works such as The Hatsune (first warbler) Trousseau, lavishly decorated in maki-e with pictorial motifs taken from the Tale of Genji, and Writing box with poetry-inspired design in maki-e by Ogata Kōrin, who modeled it on Hon’ami Kōetsu’s design.
part of the wedding trousseau given to Princess Chiyo of Tokugawa, 17th century, Edo period, Tokugawa Art Museum
17th century, Edo period, MOA Museum of Art
Section 7 Maki-e in Premodern Times—Tradition and Innovation
Lacquer art in premodern times underwent further development in techniques and designs, while maintaining the traditional practices, as Japan experienced a social transition from the shogunate to the Imperial reigns and modernization. It is witnessed in the body of work by leading lacquer artisans of the period, such as Shirayama Shōsai (1853–1923), Kawanobe Icchō (1831–1910), and other prominent figures appointed as Imperial Household Artists.
MOA Museum of Art
Section 8 Modern maki-e—Living National Treasures
The post-war Japanese government formalized a scheme to preserve the “art” of craftwork that had importance in art and history, in tandem with the enactment of the act on protection of cultural properties of the country. Thus, those individuals who possessed such arts were designated as holders of important intangible cultural properties, or popularly referred to as “living national treasures.” The first artisan who was thus designated in the lacquer art sector was Matsuda Gonroku (1896–1986). He was, and subsequent living national treasures have been, leading figures to keep maki-e alive and take it further onto a higher plane in contemporary Japan.
The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
|Event title:||The Maki-e Exposition: Tales of lacquer and gold through a thousand-year evolution|
|From Fri. April 1 to Sun. May 8, 2022|
|Organizers:||MOA Museum of Art, Mitsui Memorial Museum, Tokugawa Art Museum, and The Asahi Shimbun Company
*The exhibition will tour the three museums with their respective curation and arrangements:
Sat. October 1 to Sun. November 13 at Mitsui Memorial Museum; scheduled for spring 2023 at Tokugawa Art Museum
9:30 to 16:30 (last admission at 16:00)
|Note:||MOA Museum of Art closed on Thursdays (except May 5)|
|Address & Access:||26-2 Momoyama cho, Atami shi, Shizuoka, Japan
Bus services available from Atami railway station. Take the bus bound for MOA Museum of Art from Rank 8 in the bus terminal and alight at the final stop. It takes approximately 7 minutes.