- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Gold, silver and black lacquer
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Japan, room 45, case 3
This chest belongs to a small but high quality of Japanese export lacquerware that can be dated around 1636-1640. The box was undoubtedly the result of a special commission and was modelled on contemporary Dutch wedding caskets. These Dutch caskets were usually made out of silver and filled with gold coins as a token of marriage.
High quality export lacquerware, such as this chest, was made to special order in Kyoto, Japan's former imperial capital. It was then transported to Deshima, a small island in Nagasaki harbour, for shipment abroad by Dutch merchants. During the late 17th century merchants of the Dutch East India Company were the only Europeans permitted to conduct trade in Japan.
Chest, wood covered with black and nashiji lacquer, decorated with scenes from the Tale of Genji and landscapes in gold and silver lacquer, gold and mother-of-pearl. Made for the Western market.
A rectangular chest with an everted base and overhanging lid that is slightly domed, with a recessed ledge running round the interior towards the bottom, probably to support a tray, now missing.
The four sides and lid of the chest are decorated with landscape and figural scenes, some of which allude, in an abbreviated form, to the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji), the tenth century classic of Japanese literature. The two women in court dress in a garden among other palatial buildings depicted on the front probably refer to 'Nowaki' (The Typhoon), chapter 28. One side portrays a man in court attire with an attendant, representing Genji and an attendant from chapter 15, or Yugiri from chapter 28. The other two main sides portray buildings among landscapes and have no traceable reference to specific chapters of the novel. All four scenes are contained within a strip of thin gold foil, followed by a thicker zigzag. The main decoration on lid depicts a palace garden with a complex interconnecting verandahs, bridges and a gateway within an ornate ogival cartouche formed by a strip of gold foil. This is set against a geometric diaper pattern on the domed part within an outer key-fret border in thin slivers of mother-of-pearl. The two semicircular end panels of the lid are each decorated with a flower-head among scrolling leaves.
The decoration is carried out throughout in gold and silver hiramakie and takamakie, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, gold, gold foil and kirikane on black lacquer ground. The interior of the lid is decorated with a landscape within a kidney-shaped panel in gold on black lacquer. The remaining parts of the interior of the lid and chest are covered with nashiji, while the underside of the chest is in plain black lacquer.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Gold, silver and black lacquer
Height: 8 cm, Width: 15.3 cm, Depth: 7.2 cm
Object history note
The chest is of distinctive form and is quite unique in the lacquer medium. It was undoubtedly modelled on contemporary Durch wedding caskets, that were usually made of engraved silver, such as M113-1923, and filled with gold coins as a token of marriage. The lacquer chest was undoubtedly the result of a special commission, possibly for the marriage of Maria and Anton van Diemen in n1630 or that of Pieternellae Buys and Philip Lucasz in 1634.
Wedding casket decorated with scenes from the Tale of Genji; gold, silver and black lacquer; Japan; 1630s.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Christie's Export Art of China and Japan, The China Trade Sale, Monday 7 April, 1997, lot 171. Hutt, Julia. "A Japanese Lacquer Chest in the V&A; a seventeenth-century wedding casket for the Dutch Market," Apollo, Vol.CXLVII No. 433, March 1998, pp.3-9. Hutt, Julia. "A Japanese Export Lacquer Chest in the Victoria and Albert Museum; some further observations," Apollo, Vol. CXLIX No. 445, March 1999, pp.22-24.
Julia Hutt, "A Japanese lacquer chest in the V&A; A seventeenth-century wedding casket for the Durch market", Apollo, Vol. CXL VII No.433, March 1998, pp.3-9
Julia Hutt, "A Japanese export lacquer chest in the Victoria and Albert Museum; Some further observations", Apollo, Vol. CXLIX No.445, March 1999, pp.22-24
Silver; Gold; Lacquer