Stationary box with design of butterfly
Gold maki-e, mother-of-pearl work
L:41.5cm W:34cm H:16cm
Late 19th century

A lacquered box for books with maki-e of butterfly motif. On the dense nashiji (sprinkled gold flakes) ground the golden butterflies fly around, and light nashiji covers the inside surface. The raden (mother-of-pearl inlay) gives accents in the golden wings of butterflies. Each butterfly carries different designs based on butterfly crests which are exquisitely decorated.

The earliest butterfly design can be found on the mirrors in the Sōshō-in collection which came through the Silk Road. The Japanese butterfly design of maki-e appeared among the flower design in the Hēan period. It seems they did not distinguish much between butterfly and moth, some of the designs seem rather a moth than a butterfly. A moth, in fact, was considered as an important insect, such as silkworm which produce silk.
In the literature, a butterfly appears in the story of Shuangzi (4th century BC), the dream of butterfly, as a symbol of freedom from intelligence and reason. Also in the tale of Genji, the chapter 24 is called Kochō: butterfly, named after the poems referring to Koma-gaku, Kochō-no-mai: dance of butterfly. Connoting from those classics, the butterfly implies dream, beauty and freedom. It was adored since, and Taira family (Hēshi) and later Oda family used it as their crests. The dreamy dancing butterfly design has carried over until the modern period.