Decorated in the style of Hon'ami Koetsu in gold hiramaki-e, inlays of lead and mother-of-pearl against a rich nashiji ground, depicting a young stag amidst autumnal foliage, the interior of the cover similarly decorated with a doe bending forwards, the interior of the base also with foliage, and with two removable trays and rectangular interior section fitted with a slate inkstone and circular silver water dropper evoking a full moon
22.5 x 21.5 x 5 cm. (878 x 812 x 2 in.)
George Haviland Collection, Paris.
Gaston Migeon, Chefs d'oeuvre d'Art Japonais, (Paris, 1905), no. 389, pl. 48.
Hotel Drouot, Auction Catalogue of the Charles Haviland Collection, (Paris, 1922), no. 10.
Eskenazi Ltd., Japanese Inro and Lacquer-ware from a Private Swedish Collection, (London, 1996), no. 62, p. 62-63.
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Lot Essay

Two deer partly covered by tall autumnal plants pause momentarily on a wild plain. Rendered as silhouettes in lead inlay, the deer are an adoption of Rimpa techniques, which experienced a resurgence in popularity during the Meiji period (1868-1912) with an increase in the production of writing boxes and utensils that took inspiration from the work of Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637).

Due to their plaintive cry, the deer have been associated with the melancholy of the autumn season in Japanese classical poetry. Further alluding to the seasonality of the writing box, the circular water dropper (suiteki) suggests the full moon, which is seen as reaching the height of its beauty during the harvest period. Combined with the autumnal plain, the poetic signifiers on the box establish the location as that of Kasuga Shrine, one among a group of famous places (meisho) that can be the assumed location of a design which combines their established motifs. Several poems may have been the source for the correspondence between deer and autumn. One such poem composed by Mibu no Tadamine (active 898-920) has been translated by Helen Craig McCullough in Kokin Wakashu: The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry (Stanford, 1985), p. 55:

Of the year’s seasons,
autumn is the loneliest
at a mountain house.
How often I lie awake,
roused by the cry of the stag.

Yamazato wa
aki koso koto ni
wabishikereshika no naku ne ni
me o samashitsutsu

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