A rare pair of Kyoto-Nagasaki style lacquer and mother-of-pearl inlaid knife urns
Edo period, early 19th century
H. 71 x diam. 30 cm
Formed as urns with vertically lifting covers and elongated finials, revealing fitted green velvet lined interiors for knives, decorated overall with birds, flowering stems, faux-fluting and oval panels with landscapes. The square
plinth is raised on four bracket feet. Inside the lifting cover of one of the urns are Japanese characters, supposedly indications of some code by the craftsman.
A closely related knife urn, now in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem (inv. E 73115), was acquired in Nagasaki by Captain Samuel Gardner Derby of the Margareth of Salem in 1801. Captain Gardner Derby traded in Nagasaki under charter from the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), the Dutch East India Company. Between 1797 and 1814 Holland was occupied by the French and from 1811 until 1816 Java by
the English. During these periods practically no Dutch shipping was possible between Holland and Batavia (Jakarta) or between Batavia (Jakarta) and Nagasaki. To maintain a minimum amount of shipping between Batavia (Jakarta) and Nagasaki, between 1797 and 1807, the VOC chartered mainly American ships. American captains and officers ordered and bought mainly lacquered furniture in an American-
English style, completely different from what the Dutch up till then had ordered. The present knife urns were possibly also ordered and acquired by Captain Gardner Derby during his stay in Deshima/Nagasaki
Another similarly neoclassical shaped knife urn in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum Oxford (inv. 1996.17) appears to be signed by woodworker Kiyotomo koreo tsukuru (Kiyomoto made this). The same name, together with an address in the Sanjo-Teramachi District of Kyoto, has been found inside a fragmentary urn in a private collection. This is an indication that European-style furniture was not only lacquered in Japan but made there as well. This undoubtedly is not only true for knife-urns, but all European- style furniture lacquered in Japan after circa 1800 was made by Japanese furniture makers, after European models or drawings.