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Late 16th/early 17th century

Wood with black lacquer ground decorated in gold, silver and mother of pearl, inside a mother of pearl circle the initials S.F. and the reverse decorated with grapes in mother of pearl, with integral himotoshi and the ivory ojime in the form of the face of Christ on one side and a skull on the other.

L. 8cm

The initials S.F. undoubtedly stand for Saint Francis and the skull, as a mememto mori, was one of the attributes of Saint Francis and

after renouncing his father and his patrimony by laying down the garments he had received from his father in public, Saint Francis considered Christ his “real” father. In Fioretti di San Francisco, The little flowers of Saint Francis, a biography written more than a century after his death, there is a story about Saint Francis and the grapes. Saint Francis went to Rieti to in the hope to have his bad eyesight cured there. When he arrived so many people came to meet him that he could not enter the town and went to a nearby church where the priest welcomed him. But the people followed him in such numbers that the vineyard of the church was trampled and the priest wished that he had never welcomed Saint Francis. Saint Francis, guessing the priest's thoughts asked him “how many barrels of wine does your vineyard yield in the best years?” and he answered “twelve”. Saint Francis asked the priest to allow every man to pluck grapes and promised that the vineyard would nevertheless yield twenty barrels every year. After all the people had gone and the vineyard lay waste the priest gathered the remaining grapes, placed them in the press and in accordance with the promise of Saint Francis they yielded twenty barrels of the best wine. This miracle shows that as by the merit of Saint Francis vines stripped of grapes abound in wine, so people made bare of virtues by their sins, through the merits of Saint Francis often abound in the good fruits of repentance. Besides, vines and grapes are a common symbol for Christ in Christian iconography as he said of himself “I am the true vine”.

The Spanish Franciscans arrived in Japan from the Philippines shortly after the Portuguese and while the Portuguese were primarily interested in trade the Spaniards were more bent on conquering. This aggressive mentality of the Spanish Franciscans already in 1587 led Hideyoshi to order the missionaries to leave the country. However, while Hideyoshi was busy invading Korea, the missionaries resumed their missionary work; the Jesuits concentrating on the elite while the Franciscans organised conspicuous mass meetings for the common people. This inevitably led to problems with the Japanese rulers and in 1596 twenty-six missionaries were crucified in Nagasaki. In 1600 the Dutch, the enemy of Spain and Portugal, arrived in Japan and that really was the beginning of the end of the Christian Age in Japan. The Dutch convinced the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu that they only wanted to trade without any religious conditions. In 1639 all the Portuguese and Spanish were forced to leave the country and their Japanese Christian converts were forced to denounce their faith or leave as well. Between 1639 and 1853 the Dutch were the only Westerners allowed to trade in Japan as long as they did not import Bibles, Christian writings and artefacts or perform their religion in public.

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