Not currently on display at the V&A

Panel

ca. 1640 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The Mazarin Chest (museum no. 412-1882), probably the V&A's most important Japanese object, is an export lacquer chest of superb quality dating from the 1640s. From 2004 - 2009 it was at the centre of an international ground-breaking conservation project. At least one other closely related chest, formerly known as the Lawrence Chest but now rediscovered and purchased by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, is known to have been made. Both chests are not only extremely similar in technique and subject matter, but they also reveal a feature that is unique to them. This is an elaborate cartouche formed by four pairs of phoenixes on the outside of the lid and four pairs of dragons on the inside, enclosing buildings around a lake in a landscape. Since the new panel depicts the same phoenix cartouche and landscape, it is almost certainly the top of the lid of yet another closely related chest, even though the quality is not quite as high.

Japanese lacquer was enormously popular in Europe but was always in short supply. From the eighteenth century onwards, earlier items of Japanese export lacquer were often cut away from the original object and re-worked as fashionable pieces of contemporary furniture. One such item in the V&A, an early nineteenth century boulle-work cabinet (museum no. 1084-1882), contains three export lacquer panels, which appear to be half the front and one side of another chest. A similar cabinet from Sotheby's, Paris, also seems to form the other half and side of the same chest, since the two halves of the front show unmistakable similarities to the front of the Rijksmuseum Chest. It seems highly likely, therefore, that the newly-acquired panel was the top of this other 'Mazarin Chest'. From the other remaining pieces in the two boulle-work cabinets, it has been possible to reconstruct digitally what this chest would probably have looked like.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Wood covered in black lacquer with gold and silver lacquer, with details in silver and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver foil.
Brief Description
Panel, wood covered in black lacquer with gold and silver lacquer, inlaid with silver, decorated with a landscape, palace and lake, Japan for the western market, ca. 1640.
Physical Description
Wood panel covered in black lacquer with gold and silver hiramaki-e ('low sprinkled picture') and takamaki-e ('high sprinkled picture') lacquer, with details in silver, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver foil. The decoration is of an architectural complex and other buildings around a lake, set in a landscape, which alludes either to the Chinese Eight Views of the Xiaoxiang (Xiaoxiang ba jing) or its Japanese version, the Eight Views of Omi (Omi hakkei). This pictorial scene is enclosed by a complex cartouche formed by four pairs of phoenixes. The rough surface on the reverse is covered with undecorated western black japanning suggesting that its original high-quality lacquer surface was removed and used elsewhere. The panel has an irregular rectangular shape reflecting where it was cut away from its original chest.



This panel bears unmistakable similarities to the top of the lid of the Mazarin Chest (412-1882) and its companion, the Rijksmuseum Chest (formerly known as the Lawrence Chest). These also both reveal buildings, a lake and a landscape surrounded by a similar cartouche formed by four pairs of phoenixes. It seems highly likely that
Dimensions
  • Maximum height: 34cm
  • Maximum width: 73cm
  • Maximum depth: 3cm
  • Height:
Style
Subjects depicted
Summary
The Mazarin Chest (museum no. 412-1882), probably the V&A's most important Japanese object, is an export lacquer chest of superb quality dating from the 1640s. From 2004 - 2009 it was at the centre of an international ground-breaking conservation project. At least one other closely related chest, formerly known as the Lawrence Chest but now rediscovered and purchased by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, is known to have been made. Both chests are not only extremely similar in technique and subject matter, but they also reveal a feature that is unique to them. This is an elaborate cartouche formed by four pairs of phoenixes on the outside of the lid and four pairs of dragons on the inside, enclosing buildings around a lake in a landscape. Since the new panel depicts the same phoenix cartouche and landscape, it is almost certainly the top of the lid of yet another closely related chest, even though the quality is not quite as high.



Japanese lacquer was enormously popular in Europe but was always in short supply. From the eighteenth century onwards, earlier items of Japanese export lacquer were often cut away from the original object and re-worked as fashionable pieces of contemporary furniture. One such item in the V&A, an early nineteenth century boulle-work cabinet (museum no. 1084-1882), contains three export lacquer panels, which appear to be half the front and one side of another chest. A similar cabinet from Sotheby's, Paris, also seems to form the other half and side of the same chest, since the two halves of the front show unmistakable similarities to the front of the Rijksmuseum Chest. It seems highly likely, therefore, that the newly-acquired panel was the top of this other 'Mazarin Chest'. From the other remaining pieces in the two boulle-work cabinets, it has been possible to reconstruct digitally what this chest would probably have looked like.
Collection
Accession Number
FE.65-2009

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record createdApril 12, 2010
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