Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Asian art

View More:


Incense box

late 19th century


Unknown Artist


Incense played a significant part in the culture of the aristocracy and was adopted by the samurai class. Fragrant woods were imported at great expense from Southeast Asia, where they had been buried for many years to 'mature'. This box was made to store different types of incense for the incense game, in which participants are challenged to tell the different types of incense, each names with a poetic reference. Intricately decorated with various lacquer techniques, it features a profusion of flowers of the four seasons in a three-dimensional setting with the top as a trellis covered with wisteria.

The Asian Collections, AGNSW, 2003, pg.221.

The box is decorated with flowers of four seasons and its top bears a wisteria trellis. The interior of the door is decorated with butterflies. The tray in the top drawer has designs of cherry blossoms and a tent. The six small boxes in the central drawer have designs of persimmons, grapes, peaches, gourds, citrus fruits, and loquats, respectively. The three small boxes in the bottom drawer are decorated with gourds, ginkgo, and nandins respectively.


Alternative title


Place where the work was made



late 19th century

Media category


Materials used

"maki-e" lacquer on wood, inlaid mother-of-pearl


17.8 x 18.9 x 12.8 cm :

a - box, 11.4 x 17.9 x 12.6 cm

b - stand, 5.4 x 18.9 x 12.8 cm

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1988


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made

Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

  • Heroes and Villains, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 May 2001–19 Aug 2001

  • Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019

Referenced in 4 publications


AJIOKA Chiaki (Curator), Heroes and villains: from Japan's floating world, Sydney, May 2001, 7. 2.10

Jackie Menzies and Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Asian Collection Handbook, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Japanese Art', pg. 70-82, Sydney, 1990, 80 (colour illus.), 81 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'The World of Samurai Culture', Sydney, 2003, 221 (colour illus.).

Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Adventures in Asia. An education kit for the Asian gallery, Sydney, 2003, 12 (colour illus.). card no.12