A Family’s Most Valuable Possessions

Lacquer objects were considered to be among a family’s most valuable and prestigious possessions. As a rule, upper-class homes owned several exquisite lacquers, often including ceremonial incense boxes like this one. As a result of the relative peace and prosperity of the Edo period, a growing consumer class created an increase in wealthy patrons to the arts. Daimyo, samurai, and members of the middle class considered the visual display of one’s personal rank and wealth most important eagerly purchased lacquer objects. Actually, only high ranking samurai were permitted to own silver and gold lacquer, but the shogun could do little to monitor the possessions found in private homes, and Japanese of all ranks took every opportunity to commission beautiful, lavishly decorated lacquers of the highest quality they could afford. Even the merchant class, who were becoming increasingly wealthy despite their lowly rank, coveted lacquered objects among their prize possessions. The incense ceremony, like the tea ceremony, incorporated beautiful objects like this box, which were appreciated for their aesthetics and function. This box would have been used to hold the essences that were burned during the ceremony. Participants in the ceremony were expected to guess which essence was being burned, and to be aware of the literary or historical allusion to the scent in question.
Vancouver Museum, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts,

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