Published Sep 19 2013, by

Large Namban Chest

Namban (literally, southern barbarians) is a Japanese term that refers to the Europeans who arrived in Japan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By extension, the term also became synonymous with the types and styles of furnishings that they brought with them or commissioned for their own use in Japan. Namban goods made for this trade commonly combine Japanese techniques and motifs with Japanized versions of European styles.

This large namban chest with a domed lid was made to European specifi-cations for European use as a storage chest. In contrast to the decoration on objects made for the Japanese at around this time, this chest shows a strong European influence that is expressed in the compositional symmetry and order of the overall design, which conforms to the rectangular shape of the object. The extensive use of raden (mother-of-pearl inlay), characteristic of this chest and other so-called namban export objects, also suggests a Korean influence, as similarly intricate raden was widely practiced there.

The lid of this chest is decorated with three shaped panels depicting a carriage, two tigers, and two women with a sake set placed against a diaper-patterned ground. Correspondingly, the front has three large panels depicting a leopard, a deer, and a pheasantlike bird among flowering trees reserved on a similar ground that is set within checker and chevron borders. The back and the two sides are densely covered with vines in colored and gold lacquer. The interior of the lid shows two groups of figures with vines framing them (see figs. 35 and 36, pages 116 and 117). The ornate locks, plates, and handles of gilt bronze are heavily engraved.