Tea set

ARTIST / MAKER: Tomoyuki (maker)
DATE: ca. 1880 (made)
PLACE: Japan (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silver with enamel and shibayama inlay on ivory

This tea set, which features a teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl, is made from silver and enamel. Every side of each piece has an ivory panel embellished with a Japanese inlay technique known as shibayama. Although the technique was created by Ōnoki Senzō, an Edo haberdasher who lived during the An’ei era (1772–1781), shibayama became fashionable with European customers during the 19th century, when Japanese arts and crafts were highly sought after. The technique involves a combination of inlay and relief, whereby a surface is typically encrusted with tiny pieces of ivory, pearl-shell, tortoiseshell, coral, horn and other materials. These are intricately carved, incised and applied to a larger surface to produce a three-dimensional effect and high-relief surface. The shibayama ornament on this tea set is applied to cut ivory plaques, and depicts various species of birds among iris, magnolia or chrysanthemum blossoms, fashionable motifs often used to embellish Japanese decorative art objects.