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A Japanese lacquer small X-frame folding stool, kyũsõdai

Kyoto, the Sengoku period, late 16th century

Black and gold lacquer, hiramaki-e decorated in the pictorial style with grape vine and clematis flowers and leaves, in the kodaiji maki-e style with engraved silver knobs with mitsudomoe, whirling motives and a silk textile woven in kinran (gold leaf on paper) with a design of cherry blossom and a kago, palanquin, with alternating green and gold bands. The textile 17th or 18th century.

H. 29.8 x W.  41.2 x D. 32.1 cm

Stools like the present one were used by the high-ranking military when campaigning (see image below). In the collection of the National Museum of World Cultures in Leiden there is such a folding stool in black lacquer, without any decoration, which clearly had been used in the field. In full armour, it may be challenging to sit on the ground and therefore high ranking military officers had small folding stools to sit on when discussing tactics in the field. The present stool very smartly decorated in maki-e, with a beautiful fabric and has silver knobs with a mon, a family symbol. The mon belongs to the Kuroda clan. It is thought to have originated from a personal episode in Josui Kuroda or Yoshitaka’s life. Yoshitaka (1546-1604) a son of Mototaka (1524-1585) who served Norimoto Kodera, the lord of Okujo Castle, adopted the Kodera family name and took as his residence Himeji castle. His son, Yoshitaka, became a senior vassal of the Kodera clan and a famous military commander.

His clan’s crest is thought to have originated from a personal episode in Yoshitaka’s life. In 1576 or 1578 he was held hostage in a damp dungeon and was able to endure thanks to a wisteria growing near to his cell. After his release, he chose the flower as part of his family crest with the crest of the Kodera clan, the clan into which his father had been adopted. Yoshitaka connected the Kodera clan with Nobunaga, who campaigned to unify Japan, and his successor Hideyoshi (1537-1598), who succeeded in unifying Japan and became its first de-facto ruler. Hideyoshi prohibited Christianity to protect Japan's unity, but he didn’t do much to enforce the prohibition. Although a converted Roman Catholic with the baptismal name of ‘Dom Simeon’, Yoshitaka served Hideyoshi in many military campaigns (his conversion to Christianity must have been very short). After Hideyoshi’s death, Yoshitaka reverted his name to Kuroda and supported Ieyasu who became the first Tokugawa Shõgun after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. For his support in combat, Yoshitaka was rewarded with a transfer to the Fukuoka Domain. Later, in 1638 the Kuroda clan took part in suppressing the (Christian) Shimabara Rebellion on the Tokugawa shogunate's side, which marked Christianity's final oppression in Japan. The present military stool, kyũsõdai, clearly never was used by Yoshitaka in the field. May we speculate that the stool was a gift by Tokugawa Ieyasu to Yoshitaka for his combat support?

Provenance: the famous V.W.S. Collection (1918-1974), an important French private collection of Chinese and Japanese art

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