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Seduction: Japan's Floating World

Mirror stand with wisteria decoration
Edo period (1615-1868)
Lacquered wood with gilded copper fittings; bronze (mirror).

An essential accessory for applying makeup or arranging one's hair, lacquered mirror stands were included in the bridal trousseaux made for women of wealthy families and were used by courtesans and geisha preparing for an evening's entertainment (see figure at right). Kabuki actors also put on their stage makeup with the aid of similar furnishings (see cat. nos. 11 and 22). Most Edo-period mirror stands consist of a square chest with drawers for accessories or cosmetics, and a detachable support for a bronze mirror (in cat. nos. 11 and 22, the mirror rests inside the bottom half of a lacquered case). Cast in one piece with a slender handle and round plate, the mirror's flat surface was burnished to a reflective sheen and the backside was typically cast in relief with felicitous motifs. The elaborate decoration of this mirror stand sets it apart from the plain black stands shown in prints of courtesans and actors—this one was made for a member of the moneyed elite. Here an elegant design of a large pine tree entwined with wisteria covers the sides, radiating across the top of the chest and onto the stand itself. Using the maki-e ("sprinkled picture") method, fine gold and silver powders were dusted or blown from a pipette onto designs delicately traced in damp lacquer, then polished. Gilded metal fittings on the stand incorporate the paulownia crest.

John C. Weber Collection

Image © John Bigelow Taylor.