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A unique and exceptional Japanese miniature or dollhouse export lacquered chest

Kyoto, circa 1620-1640

The chest of rectangular shape with a domed lid, decorated in Transition-style, in gold hiramaki-e on a black background within reserved lobed cartouches decorated with landscapes animated with birds and rabbits, on a shagreen or samegawa background. The borders are decorated with geometric friezes, the box with gilt-copper mounts, the interior decorated in red lacquer.

H. 9.2 x W. 14.5 x D. 7.2 cm

This miniature is of exceptional quality and a perfect copy of the famous large size Transition-style coffers. It was most likely ordered by a Dutch lady for her dollhouse (poppenhuis), like the famous Petronella Oortman (1656- 1716) doll-house, which is now one of the highlights in the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, or Petronella Oortmans-de la Court’s (1624-1707) dollhouse in the collection of the Centraal Museum Utrecht. Sara Rothé

of Amsterdam in 1743 ordered a miniature black lacquered ivory tripod table with gold chinoiserie decoration by Jurriaan Buttner (Monika Kopplin, European Lacquer, 2010, p. 56).
Other Japanned dollhouse miniatures are known, but probably all made and decorated in Europe. Apparently Japanese-style pieces were in vogue with owners of dollhouses. Already early in the 17th century dollhouse miniature Chinese porcelain and other curiosities, also from Japan, were brought to the Netherlands, mostly through personal contacts. The VOC however, started trading in miniatures as well, and in 1638 remarks on poppeschoteltgen and poppeschaeltgen can be found in letters by officials (Jet Pijzel-Dommisse, Het Hollandse pronkpoppenhuis, Rijksmuseum 2000, pg 35-36). Also, in a in 1637 pirated Portuguese ship, a great variety of miniatures and poppegoet was found.
In VOC-letters from the 1660s, orders for Japanese lacquer cabinets can be found, that needed to be filled with “cleyn Japans porceleyn, cleijne doosgens (small boxes), coffertjen (small coffers) en andere curieusiteyten en poppegoet.”
Early miniatures like the one present, could have been placed in cabinets of curiosities or dollhouses alike, but up until now it seems that none have survived, making this chest unique.

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