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A Portuguese-colonial Japanese Namban lacquer vargueno cabinet

Momoyama period, circa 1600


H. 43 x W. 64.5 x D. 36 cm

Wood, black lacquered and decorated with gold and inlays of mother-of-pearl, brass mounts and carrying handles, the fall front lacking. A pictorial-style Namban cabinet, the top decorated in an unusual scene of a tiger attacking deer near a house and garden. Some of the earliest Namban wares produced for the Portuguese were fall-front cabinets or desks, and according to Impey and Jörg although poorly documented, “the Portuguese trade in these objects was clearly extensive” (Impey & Jörg, ibid., p. 124).

Coffer and cabinets, decorated in lacquer, gold and mother-of-pearl, were produced by the Japanese specifically for export to the West. The name Namban was given by the Japanese to Europeans and other 'Southern barbarians'.
These export products developed in response to the Portuguese contact with Japan in the second half of the sixteenth century and were produced until the end of their presence in Japan in 1639 (Oliver Impey & Christiaan Jörg, Japanese export lacquer 1580-1850, Amsterdam, 2005, p. 78). The earliest namban wares are decorated with floral and other motifs in gold, slivers of thin metal and mother-of-pearl inlay set in a mosaic pattern against a black lacquer ground. The designs and techniques that were executed by Kyoto artisans represent a fusion of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and European taste.

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