In a reference to the Nanban makie tradition of the 15th and 16th Jesuits and other Nanbanjin, and with further reference to the lasting significance of religious objects in human history, Unryūan expressed a desire to be part of this tradition, Heisei Nanban. The Kiddush Cup pictured and featured in the current ‘Japanese Kōgei: Future Forward exhibition at the New York Museum of Arts and Design, was the first work in an ongoing series of lacquer objects of international religious significance. Commissioned by Australian lacquer collector and renowned philanthrop Mrs Pauline Gandel through Unryūan’s international representative gallery, Lesley Kehoe Galleries, this work sets a new precedent in lacquer technique and design – a step in the evolution of the lacquer master’s academically acknowledged original technique, saiei makie 彩影蒔絵. The cross, also featured in the MAD exhibition and part of the collection of the 21st Century Museum of Art Kanazawa, whose Director Yuji Akimoto is co-curator of the exhibition, is the second work in the series.
The lacquer techniques used have evolved from the artist’s decades of research and experimentation with the shell inlay of nineteenth century Somata work. The overall theme of the bowl section of the Kiddush Cup is the Lotus. Constructed of six large lotus petals containing multiple smaller petals, the design symbolizes the eternal, the universal, the sacred, referencing both the Lotus Sutra of Buddhism and the Kabbalah. The elements of earth, water and fire are contained within three of the large petals. The other three contain symbolic representations of the Seven Precious Treasures, Japanese expressions of good fortune.
The interior and the lip of the bowl are gold kinji , the Hebrew words “Bless the Wine” gold takamakie with hiramakie scrolling tendrils on a red lacquer and nashiji ground. The six-pointed Star of David is a central feature of the bowl, gold togidashi against a shell ground. The stem features a central round ‘bead’ that is executed entirely in kirikane, symbolizing the ‘belly’ (hara in Japanese) of the dragon. Hara signifies the centre of the spirit, the heart, mind, soul. The foot is decorated overall with gold kirikane and shell inlay. When turned to the left and the right, the design ‘moves’ and represents swirling clouds. This swirling cloud design conjoins with the design of the dragon belly to represent ‘Unryūan, the art name of the artist…in this case symbolically expressing gratitude for his involvement with the work.