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Stationery Set with Black Pines and Deer in Makie and Mother-of-Pearl Inlay

Unknown1700/1800

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

Using decorative techniques of nashiji (pearskin ground), hiramakie (flat sprinkle metal decoration), raden (mother-of-pearl inlay), and inlaid tin plate, the inkstone case depicts a male and female deer resting at the water’s edge, while the stationery box shows a pair of deer and black pines growing on an earthy mound. In both cases, the motifs are highly stylised, creating a striking impact through the beautiful combination of diverse materials. The composition also exploits the entire surface of the piece, extending from the lid down the sides of the body to the bottom. The inside of the stationary-box lid has a huge full moon rendered in silver plate that shines through the branches of a pine tree on an earthy bank. Around this, in tin-plated script, is a verse from the tenth-century antholog y Kokin wakashū (Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry): “The autumn moon shines brilliantly upon the mountain range to show us the very number of the fallen colored leaves.” The inside of the inkstone-case cover and the interior of the case are decorated solely with black pines.
We know relatively little about the artist Nagata Yūji, only that he was active in the Shōtoku and Kyōhō eras (first half of the eighteenth century) and hugely admired Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), signing himself ‘disciple of Seisei’ (a reference to Kōrin). The undersides of both the inkstone case and the stationery box bear the signature ‘Seiseishi’ and the artist’s seal. Although there are other extant works with this signature and seal, none match the scale of this tour-de-force, which can be considered Yūji’s great masterpiece.

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