A Japanese lacquer box covered with Japanese gilt-leather paper imitating Dutch gilt leather, or kinkarakawakami
Probably Tokyo, Meiji period, circa 1880
The black lacquered box is covered with Japanese gilt-leather paper imitating Dutch real gilt-leather, in the Louis XIV/Marot style, painted in blue and gold on a fine relief ground.
H. 10.5 x L. 38.9 x D. 25.2 cm
Room decoration with gilt leather hangings was popular in the Netherlands from
the mid 17th till the early 18th century. Gilt leather was not gilt, but leather partly painted in one or more colours. It was also partly faced with tinfoil glazed with markedly yellow varnish, which imparted a golden look to the tin foil. The leather was embossed and pressed into a carved wooden mould with a pattern. The Islamic people first produced gilt leather, mainly in Spain during the Islamic period. By the 17th century, the centre of production had moved to the Netherlands, with Malines and Amsterdam being particularly famous for their gilt leathers.
Since the first half of the 17th-century Dutch gilt leather was exported not only to Northern Europe but in small quantities to China and Japan too, mainly as gifts by the VOC to Asian rulers. Dutch gilt leather became a status symbol in Japan. It was used for purses, tobacco pouches, pipe cases, small bags and boxes, and even for folding screens. After a while, the Japanese started to copy Dutch gilt leather.
However, leather workers belonged to the lowest class in Japanese society and leather was forbidden in or near Buddhist temples. Therefore, Horiki Chujiro started in 1684 to produce paper imitations of gilt leather in Ise, which became popular with visiting pilgrims because they could take these ‘gilt paper’ pouches into the temple. After several attempts resulted in various leather imitations, it was only around 1870 that the Takeya firm in Tokyo managed to produce lovely embossed paper wall hangings in the Dutch 17th and 18th-century style. These Japanese paper wall hangings were awarded prices in the World Exhibitions in Europe and the United States and were supplied to Buckingham Palace and Paleis Het Loo, among others.
In the late 19th century, Japanese gilt lacquered paper was imitated again
in European paper production. Particularly in Britain is an excellent example of cultural exchange between Asia and Europe.
A very similar fragment of Japanese gilt paper from the late 19th century is in the collection of Het Haags Gemeentemuseum (Frits Scholten ed., Goudleer, kinkarakawa, de geschiedenis van het Nederlandse goudleer en zijn invloed in Japan, Waanders, Zwolle, 1989, ill. 55).