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Writing table

  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1620 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, covered with gold and silver <i>takamaki-e</i> (high sprinkled picture) and <i>nashiji (pear-skin ground)</i> lacquer, with gold and silver details; silvered metal fittings

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Misses Alexander

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Japan, room 45, case 14

This writing desk illustrates a pictorial representation of a poem. The literary design hints at lines of a renga or thirty-one syllable poem that were composed by two people. The poem, like the design on the writing desk, illustrates the themes of loneliness and separation through motifs like a broken bridge for decay and a dilapidated palace on the left side of the box. On the right side are salt burners huts which are perhaps in reference to a place known as Suma, famous as a place of exile during the early 9th century. Such writing desks were used for composing poetry during special gatherings or for writing letters and calligraphy. Most tables were used to illustrate aesthetic taste rather than being purely practicle in function.

Physical description

Writing desk, wood with gold and silver lacquer. Decoration in gold and silver takamaki-e (high sprinkled picture) on a nashiji (pear-skin ground) of a deserted palace by the sea.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


ca. 1620 (made)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, covered with gold and silver takamaki-e (high sprinkled picture) and nashiji (pear-skin ground) lacquer, with gold and silver details; silvered metal fittings


Height: 9 cm, Length: 59.7 cm, Width: 35 cm

Descriptive line

Writing desk (bundai), wood with gold and silver lacquer takamaki-e (high sprinkled picture) with nashiji (pear-skin ground) of a deserted palace, Japan, 17th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
This writing table is a fine example of the extensive and varied collection of Japanese art formed by William Cleverly Alexander, an English collector active in the 1850s, after Japan was opened up to the West. Gifts and bequests from collectors like Alexander helped form the basis of the V&A's Japanese holdings.
The table's lacquer decoration illustrates themes from classical Japanese literature, especially poetry. The building on the island has been identified as the Sumiyoshi Shrine near Suma, a place famous for salt making. Other motifs, such as the Nagara Bridge with broken planks, an island topped by a pine tree, a dilapidated palace, and chrysanthemums by a fence are all subjects found in poetry, frequently alluding to loneliness and separation.

Lit. Earle, 1984; Earle, 1986a, p. 57


Exhibition History

A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)

Subjects depicted

Trees; Buildings; Landscapes (representations); Palaces


Woodwork; Furniture

Collection code


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