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Lacquer document box known as the van Diemen box
W.49-1916
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

Although Japanese export lacquerware was usually shaped to meet western tastes, this piece takes the form of a Japanese document box with a tray. It belongs to a small group of extremely high quality export lacquerware work produced between about 1630 and 1640. As in the case of this box, these were typically decorated using expensive and elaborate lacquer techniques with scenes from Japanese classical literature, mostly from the eleventh century romance ‘The Tale of Genji’ written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the Heian court.

History of the Object
High quality export lacquerware such as this box was made to special order in Kyoto, Japan's former imperial capital. It was then transported to Deshima, a small island in Nagasaki harbour, for shipment abroad by Dutch merchants. During the late 17th century merchants of the Dutch East India Company were the only Europeans permitted to conduct trade in Japan. The inside of the lid of this box is inscribed with the name of Maria van Diemen, wife of Anton van Diemen, Governor General of the Dutch East Indies from 1636 to 1645. The famous author, designer and collector William Beckford (1760-1844) also owned a very similar box known as the Buys box. Beckford's box was inscribed with the name of Pieternellae Buys, married to Philips Lucasz in 1634. Lucasz served as second-in-command to Anton van Diemen in Batavia from 1635 to 1639. This combination of biographical details allows the two boxes to be dated to between 1636 and 1639. These are among the very few export lacquerware objects known to have any direct connection with women.

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Type
Decorative Art 
Materials
Lacquered wood 
Measurements
Depth: 36.7cm 
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Japan; Kyoto 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 17th century ~ AD 17th century 
Creation date
17th Century; 1636-1639 
Function
 
Acquisition
Given by the children of Sir Trevor Lawrence, Bart. 1916. Lawrence (d.1913) was a well-known and respected collector of Japanese art. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Credit line
© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

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