Set of Maki-e Boxes, Gulbenkian

Japanese, 19th century.

The maki-e decoration technique consists in applying multiple thin layers of Japanese black lacquer, drying it in an oven, then polishing it to high gloss, then applying the next layer — usually, about 30 times or so to get the right smoothness and gloss. For decoration gold dust of various sizes, and sometimes gold leaf, is applied to a layer, then painted over, then polished until it becomes visible again.

Gulbenkian owns what is probably the world’s best collection of these marvels.

Each of the two boxes in this set is approximately 15 cm long, 12 cm tall and 8 cm wide. Each is completely covered with landscape decoration, including the sides of the miniature drawers.