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Pyx with Camellias and IHS Insignia in Makie and Mother-of-Pearl Inlay

Unknown16-17th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

This is a container for Holy Communion wafers. Symbolising the body of Christ, the communion wafer is handed out to believers by the priest during Catholic mass. It holds a smaller nested box and bears the three letters “IHS” on top of the lid, executed in gold hiramakie (flat sprinkled metal decoration) and raden (inlaid mother-ofpearl) on a black lacquered ground. On the sides these same techniques are combined with enashiji (pictorial pear-skin ground, where gold flakes are sprinkled over specific motifs) to depict camellias.The IHS insignia representing the name of Jesus surrounded by a halo (or perhaps a crown of thorns) and combined with a cross rising from the horizontal of the ‘H’ and a heart pierced by three nails was the emblem of the Jesuit Society, which reached Japan in 1549. The lacquer in makie work on the lid is unfortunately very badly damaged; most of its surface appears to be later restoration work. Although Nanban lacquer portable altars containing religious images, and lecterns to hold Bibles, were made in considerable numbers for wealthy believers, items such as this pyx were utilised only by the priest and therefore not so numerous. This is a very rare item; only a dozen or so exist around the world.

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