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A Japanese export Namban lacquer coffer for the Portuguese market, Kyoto, Momoyama period, late 16th/early 17th century



Kyoto, Momoyama period, late 16th/early 17th century


In Cedarwood, black lacquered (urishi), decorated with gold, silver, colour (maki-é) and mother-of-pearl (raden), with typical Japanese plants, birds and butterfly in four panels divided by a zig-zag pattern, with gilt copper fittings, the lock plate with horse's heads.

H. 29 x W. 41 x D. 24 cm



In 1541 a Portuguese trading ship was cast ashore in Japan, on the island of Kyushu, and this was the first direct contact between Japan and Europe. In 1549 the Jesuit Francis Xavier landed in Kogashima with the purpose of introducing Christianity and European culture in Japan. From this time on Christianity and Portuguese and Spanish culture and art spread very rapidly in Japan. Soon the Jesuits established a school for Japanese artists to create paintings and objects in the European style.

This development worried the rulers of Japan and in 1613 the Christian faith was banned in Japan. In 1639 Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu expelled all Portuguese and Spanish missionary and traders, suppressed Christianity and closed the country to foreigners. Only the Dutch and Chinese were allowed to remain on two small artificial islands in the harbour of Nagasaki. All Christian art in the European manner was destroyed. Out of the thousands of “Namban” objects made in Japan in the late 16th and early 17th century, only the ones that had been exported to Europe survived. In recent years Japan started to buy back its “Namban” art.

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