Incense container with aogai inlay of Hotei

Ming Dynasty, China (16C)

‘Aogai’ or ‘blue shell’ refers to the luminous pearl-like shell fragments often used with a shell inlay technique for lacquerware. This particular incense burner depicts Hotei, the god of happiness and abundance, using a mother-of-pearl inlay on a black lacquer surface. Traces of ‘hair carving’ (a technique of carving very fine lines) can be seen on Hotei’s face and robe, and the sides of the burner are decorated with an auspicious ‘kikkō hanabishi’ pattern, consisting of flower petals inside hexagonal units resembling the shape of a tortoise shell. The result is exceptionally delicate and gorgeous.

This incense burner was first owned by the influential 16th century tea practitioner Sen no Rikyū, and is thought to have been passed down to Hori Shikibu of Chikurin-in at Seiganji Temple in Kyoto. It was then acquired by Sakai Tadakatsu, who served as the first lord of the Shonai domain from 1622 to 1647, and later changed hands from the Sakai family to the Homma family.