Large Tray

  • Muromachi period
  • 15c
  • Black and red lacquered wood (Negoro ware)
  • H-6.4 D-65
Catalogue Entry

Muromachi period, 15th century
Red lacquered wood
Height, 6.5cm; diameter, 63.2-64.0cm

Carved from a large piece of old keyaki (zelkova) wood, this tray was carved with a yariganna plane to form a circular shape with a shallow, carved-out form. The back was coated solely in black lacquer undercoating, while the front was coated in black lacquer and then given a layer of red lacquer. The areas where the plain wood is visible show traces of the planing process, and clearly the tray was created in a single unaffected process. This tray was not created as a decorative object, but the weighty effect of the beautiful wood grain of the tree rings was further enhanced by the knowledgeable hand of its carver.

The robust nature of its base wood may indeed be the reason that this tray has lost none of its special appeal as it has aged and been used. The long years of use have imbued the bowl with its own forms, its own sensibility, and these qualities grew as those who used the tray became attached to it, and prized it.

This is truly revealed in the beautiful, glossy surface of the many layers of lacquer that were applied to the bowl as it was defaced. The black ground of lacquer and the red top layer of lacquer have combined into a harmonious whole, and the rare quality of the color harmonies which are woven from these forms and are beyond description displays the characteristics of the lacquerware known as Negoro, as years of use have brought out the true beauty of the underlying wood and the worn layers of lacquer.

While the specific use of this tray cannot be determined, there is probably no need for such particular information. This tray was undoubtedly used for a variety of purposes throughout its life. Something about this impressive tray conveys a vivid sense of the appearance of its former owners, as we can imagine them placing an array of sake cups on the tray as they admired its surface.

Traditionally, this tray is said to have been from the Todaiji collection, but unfortunately no specific evidence supports this tradition. SK