A NEAR PAIR OF DUTCH-COLONIAL JAPANESE CHESTNUT CABINET CHESTS WITH BRASS MOUNTS
Last quarter 17th century
Two doors, behind which a set of drawers, with elaborate brass mounts and two handles.
H. 65 x W. 81.5 x 50 cm
Earlier in the 17th century, this type of cabinet was made in carved ebony, but in the second half of the century, carved ebony went out of fashion and lacquered, or plain wooden cabinets came into vogue. The shape of the mounts agrees with the ones on Japanese export lacquer cabinets. The doors open to reveal eleven drawers, two with locks; the same arrangement as in Japanese lacquered cabinets. Because of all these drawers, the function possibly was a collector’s cabinet. Similar cabinets are in the collections of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and Museum Het Princessehof in Leeuwarden. There these table cabinets are catalogued as being from Batavia. However, the wood of the present one does not exist in the tropics but is an indigenous wood in Japan.
Among the earliest recorded Japanese export cabinets of similar shape are Namban lacquer cabinets with multiple drawers. The very first cabinets, dating from 1580-1600, did not have a front but, following European/Iberian examples, soon (1590-1620) the cabinets were equipped with a fall front. The only early Namban cabinets with original side-opening doors are those with a single door, usually hinged on the dexter side.
After the Portuguese had been banned from Japan in 1638, and the Dutch were the only Westerners allowed to trade in Japan, the Iberian style fall-front was replaced by the Flemish/Dutch two side-opening doors, pictorial style lacquered cabinet (1640-1690). In the pictorial style, all sides of the cabinet were decorated with one ‘picture’ covering the whole surface, initially within borders but eventually without any border. Because these cabinets
in Europe were placed on European made stands, the top was not visible and therefore usually left undecorated in plain black lacquer (see Uit Verre Streken, December 2020, no. 60). A next step, seldomly taken, was to have a black lacquered Japanese cabinet without any decoration at all (see Uit Verre Streken, March 2020, no. 52) or covered all-over with shagreen. The final step in the development of Japanese export cabinets at the end of the 17th and early 18th century was to skip lacquer altogether and have plain wooden cabinets. These plain wooden cabinets, like the present one, were made in Japan, with Japanese woods. Occasionally they were copied in Indonesia in teak (Jan Veenendaal Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India during the Dutch period, Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara, 1985, p.75), or red sandal wood (Titus Eliëns ed. Wonen op de Kaap en in Batavia (Jakarta), 1602-1795, pg. 80-81). These last two steps in the development of export cabinets from the East, plain black lacquer, and no lacquer at all, appear to have been exclusively in the Dutch (Calvinist) taste, where they were called comptoirs or kantoortjes and were popular as collectors’ cabinets. To the taste of royals and aristocrats in other European countries these undecorated cabinets probably were a bit too austere.
The present cabinet is practically identical to another Japanese horse chestnut cabinet illustrated in Uit Verre Streken, March 2020, item 54. Together they would make a nice near pair.