VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Writing desk with Nagasaki mother of pearl work
NMHC_Dho0008
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

Nagasaki Aogai craft was characteristic of its gorgeous design and variety in form. Being such elaborate craft, however, it began to decline from 1860s, after which Nagasaki lost its privileged position as the unique harbour open to Europe. The craftsmanship tradition finally came to an end in 1914. Born from Chinese influence and flourished by the orders from the Dutch, Nagasaki Aogai craft is the most precious cultural heritage in Nagasaki. Well reputed as one of the most beautiful and elaborate achievements of the tradition, this desk should undoubtedly be called a masterpiece. Ryuji HIRAOKA and Kenji KUBO, curator, Nagasaki.

History of the Object
Nagasaki Aogai craft (mother of pearl work) is one of the styles of lacquerware from early modern Japan. To create these objects, the shell was ground into several thicknesses on a whetstone, cut into shapes and its back was painted red or blue. It was then pasted or inlaid on a wood or lacquered surface, then polished. Nagasaki Aogai craft originated with the introduction of art from China in the early 17th century. It flourished in the 19th century when it was exported to Europe in the form of boxes, trays, desks and chests, for example. During this period the Dutch often ordered the craftsmen to make items according to their specifications—for example, inlaid with a coat of arms. It constituted a popular export good. This writing desk is typical European-style but it is decorated with Nagasaki Aogai craft, thus there is no doubt that it was made in Nagasaki for export to Europe. At the front, there is a hinged door, beautifully decorated with a cock design which can be opened frontward. The door forms a desk board against which a document is put and then the drawer inside appears. A plan of this type of desk can be seen as “Standing desk” in the “Nurimono hinagata hikae (The samples of lacquerware)”, made in 1878.

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Type
Decorative Art 
Materials
Lacquered wood with mother of pearl work 
Measurements
51.0㎝ × 61.0㎝ × 144.0㎝ 
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Japan; Nagasaki 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century; the late Edo period (1603-1867) 
Function
 
Acquisition
This has been in the collection of Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum since 1988, and is now preserved in Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan 
Museum
Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture 
Credit line
Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture, Nagasaki, Japan 

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