Not currently on display at the V&A

Writing Box

1800-1850 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
Writing boxes of this kind were not used in Japan. They were made especially for export to the West, where Japanese lacquer had been admired since the end of the 16th century. The coloured mother-of-pearl design of birds and foliage is typical of early 19th-century lacquer objects made for foreign customers.

Time
During the late 17th century Dutch merchants were the only Europeans allowed to trade in Japan. Rising prices meant that no Japanese lacquer was officially exported after 1693. As a substitute, merchants turned to cheaper and inferior products made in China. However, during the 18th and 19th centuries, Dutch merchants were able to use their privileged position to place private orders for objects like this box.

Places
Japanese export wares were shipped abroad from Deshima, a small island in Nagasaki harbour. By the late 18th century a new type of export work, called 'Nagasaki lacquer', had developed there. It is characterised by extremely thin and strikingly coloured pieces of pearl shell inlaid into black lacquer. The main parts of the design were also often underpainted.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Insert
  • Insert
Materials and Techniques
Wood, covered with black lacquer and inlaid with under-painted mother-of-pearl
Brief Description
Writing box, black lacquer inlaid with underpainted mother-of-pearl, decorated with a bird on the branch of a maple tree, and sprigs of flowering plants and blossoms round the sides; Japan for the western market, 1800-1850
Physical Description
This desk is in the form of a box which opens up to form a desk with a slanting writing surface covered with baize, together with a drawer on the lower side and a metal lockplate (key missing). It is made of wood covered in black lacquer and inlaid with mother-of-pearl shell, which is underpainted in colours. It is decorated with a bird on the branch of a maple tree, together with other plants, such as bamboo. Sprigs of flowering plants and blossoms are evenly scattered round the sides of the box.
Dimensions
  • Height: 14.8cm
  • Width: 42.2cm
  • Depth: 25.4cm
Dimensions checked: Measured; 18/01/1999 by sf measured closed. Object too fragile to be opened out - writing slope inside
Gallery Label
British Galleries: This box was one of the first Japanese objects bought by the Museum. It was probably imported into Britain from The Netherlands, because before the 1850s the Dutch were the only Europeans who had been granted trading rights by Japan. The objects they brought back were made specifically for the European market.(27/03/2003)
Object history
This box was purchased from Messrs. Hewett & Co.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Object Type
Writing boxes of this kind were not used in Japan. They were made especially for export to the West, where Japanese lacquer had been admired since the end of the 16th century. The coloured mother-of-pearl design of birds and foliage is typical of early 19th-century lacquer objects made for foreign customers.

Time
During the late 17th century Dutch merchants were the only Europeans allowed to trade in Japan. Rising prices meant that no Japanese lacquer was officially exported after 1693. As a substitute, merchants turned to cheaper and inferior products made in China. However, during the 18th and 19th centuries, Dutch merchants were able to use their privileged position to place private orders for objects like this box.

Places
Japanese export wares were shipped abroad from Deshima, a small island in Nagasaki harbour. By the late 18th century a new type of export work, called 'Nagasaki lacquer', had developed there. It is characterised by extremely thin and strikingly coloured pieces of pearl shell inlaid into black lacquer. The main parts of the design were also often underpainted.
Collection
Accession Number
51:1 to 3-1852

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record createdMarch 27, 2003
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