This sumptuous gold cosmetic box has a wood core covered with thin sheets of gold decorated with Tokugawa wild-ginger (aoi) crests on a lattice of stylised lightning bolts (raimon-tsunagi), an auspicious pattern representing longevity. The underside of the lid is decorated with peony blossoms on diaperwork with florets (kikkohanabishi); the base of the box is decorated with stylised flowers.
This box was exhibited at the Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya, in November and December, 2010, in an exhibition of Treasures of the Owari Tokugawa Family along with a display of gold and silver furnishings from the Tokugawa Art Museum constituting a portion of the bridal trousseau of Chiyo-himegimi, or “Princess” Chiyo. Princess Chiyo was the first-born daughter of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu (1604-1651), grandson of Ieyasu, the founder of the shogunate.
It is not possible to assign a definite Chiyo-himegimi provenance to this example, the property of a private collector, but it is said to come from the Kii, or Kishu, branch of the Tokugawa family, based in what is now Wakayama Prefecture, south of Osaka and Nara. Among Princess Chiyo’s gold and silver wedding furniture exhibited in 2010, however, there was an incense box ( jinbako) of gold with similar decor; that box, along with most of the museum’s gold objects, is designated an Important Cultural Property.
Women of the aristocracy would keep their cosmetics in lacquer boxes decorated with powdered gold and silver designs (maki-e). To have a toiletry set not in lacquer but in gold was beyond extravagant and made a bold statement about the awesome wealth and power of its owner. Surviving works from the estates of early members of the Tokugawa clan are rare and highly prized. Most of what survives is now in the collection of the Tokugawa Art Museum. Ieyasu, for example, hosted tea ceremonies for his most special guests using a tea kettle and brazier, as well as other implements, of solid gold. He also commissioned for his personal use a writing box of sheet gold with a design consisting of a number of large Tokugawa crests scattered on a grid of smaller repeating propitious motifs, over a wooden core.1
The bridal trousseau of Princess Chiyo, including seventy items designated National Treasures and a number of the gold and silver pieces, was displayed at the Tokugawa Art Museum in May 2015. Iemitsu’s daughter was just two years old in 1638 when she was married to Mitsutomo, the second-generation lord of the Owari Tokugawa family. Tokugawa marriage politics aimed to solidify alliances with the great daimyo families. The makie trousseau set that Iemitsu gave his young daughter to take to her husband’s home was known as “Paraphernalia of the First Warbler”, or “Hatsune”, named for a chapter of The Tale of Genji. The set included forty-seven items of furniture and paraphernalia.
The Kii Tokugawa family was one of the Three Houses of the Tokugawa (Tokugawa Gosanke). These three branches descended from the three youngest sons of the clan founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu: Yoshinao (the first lord of Owari), Yorinobu (the first lord of Kii) and Yorifusa (the first lord of Mita). Their heirs were expected to provide a shogun in case of need. The Kii Tokugawa was the only family among these three houses to produce successors to the shogun—once in 1716 with Tokugawa Yoshimune and again in 1858 with Tokugawa Iemochi.
1. Shogun: The Shogun Age Exhibition [Tokugawa Art Museum, 1984], Pl. 114.