Lot 3. A Lacquer Casket Commissioned by the Portuguese, Momoyama period, late 16th century © Christie's Image Ltd 2016
The rectangular casket with domed hinged cover, decorated in gold hiramaki-e and inlaid in mother-of-pearl on a black ground, the cover with tachibana and vine, the front with chrysanthemum, vine and cherry blossom, one side with morning glory and kikyo [Chinese bellflowers], the other side with tachibana and vines, the back with further tachibana, vines and another flowering tree, all bordered with the bands of geometric patterns, copper gilt fittings engraved with stylised flowers - 22.4cm. wide
Note: The Europeans began to arrive in Japan from the late 16th century for trade and Christian missions. To furnish the Christian churches in Japan and also for export, Japanese lacquer workers produced a variety of decorative lacquer chests, coffers, boxes and other furniture, as well as ceremonial religious objects. They were largely in European form but decorated using Japanese techniques and in Japanese designs, sometimes mixed with Western patterns.
Namban lacquerwares were decorated in gold hiramaki-e and shell inlay as in this present lot. Their design is related to Kodaiji lacquer, a type of lacquerware made in Kyoto during the late Momoyama and early Edo periods, which is characterised by expansive and expressive designs in gold hiramaki-e on a roironuri, or black ground, and the favoured subject was flowers and plants. Western missionaries and merchants had opportunities to see Kodaiji lacquerwares and ordered the workshops to make the objects for them using the same design and techniques in freely-painted hiramaki-e. Namban pieces, however, generally employ dazzling shell inlay, which is never found in Kodaiji works and disappears after the Momoyama period. Their decorations are also denser than those of Kodaiji pieces and often combined with some Western patterns such as geometric borders.
For similar examples, see Sakai City Museum ed., Namban shikki - shitsugei ni miru tozai koryu [Namban lacquer wares - lacquer art and the exchanges between East and West] (Osaka, 1983), p.37, 39; and Sezon Museum of Art and Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, eds., ‘Porutogaru to Nanban bunka’ ten: mezase toho no kuniguni [‘Portugal and Namban culture’ exhibition : Via Orientals], (Japan, 1993), p. 194-195, no. 168 (the Confraria de Nossa Senhora da Luz collection, Arraiolos)
For a larger example in the Kyoto National Museum
Flowers and birds Maki-e, Raden Yohitsu, Momoyama, 51.9 cm, Kyoto National Museum © The Agency for Cultural Affairs.
For information on lacquer caskets commissioned by Europeans,
Travelling chest Lacquer with shell inlay, Momoyama period, Late 16th-17th century, 22.3 centimetres. British Museum, 1956,0215.1 © Trustees of the British Museum
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