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Namban Cabinet
MNK VI-5480
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

An example which is a perfect illustration of the namban style, prevalent for less than four decades, is this chest. The form and rich ornamentation of the object reference the best examples of this direction in Japanese decoration. It is a small piece of furniture, with a removable side wall which covers nine drawers in four horizontal rows. The uppermost one, positioned centrally, used to be locked with a key which, along with the metal fittings, was made in the 18th century in Europe. The surface of the outer walls of the chest and the drawer fronts are covered with diversely-patterned twig-and-leaf motifs. Among the entangled twigs of a peony bush, winding ivy shots, maple leaves or cherry flowers, one can spot stylized silhouettes of birds and long-horned antelopes. The impression of lavish decoration is augmented by mother-of-pearl inlay which, glistening colourfully, alternates with gilt areas made in the powder-sprinkling technique on lacquer, and enlivens the dark hew of the matte bronze fittings.

History of the Object
The literal translation of the term namban – “southern barbarians” – is the description of Europeans who came to Japan in the 16th century. It is also used in reference to newcomers from mainland Asia. Europeans and Asians – travellers, merchants, missionaries – usually reached the southern ports of Japan, which is probably why an indication of a geographical direction found its way into this contemptuous expression describing foreigners. The interest in novelties yielded fruit on Japanese soil quite quickly, manifested in new artistic forms, motifs, and techniques. In most cases, these were compound ideas, combining traditional Japanese crafts with new experiences gained in contacts with the Western world, which resulted, for example, in decorative motifs, assimilated and processed in accordance with the tastes of local consumers. Due to the considerable participation of missionaries as intermediaries between the cultures, the popularity of these trends coincided with the period when Christianity was spreading in Japan. This fact makes it possible to date objects made in the namban style with relative precision because less than four decades passed between the rise of fascination with Christianity, i.e., around 1590, and the moment when a drastic ban was imposed on this religion in 1624.

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Type
Decorative Art 
Materials
Lacquer on wood, decoration (hiramaki-e) sprinkled with gold and silver dust, inlay of mother-of-pearl, handles and fittings cast in bronze 
Measurements
Width 24.9 cm Height 24.8 cm Length 24.1 cm  
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Japan 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 16th century ~ AD 17th century 
Creation date
16th Century - 17th Century; ca 1590-1624 
Function
furniture - small cabinet used while travelling 
Acquisition
1909 - donated by Edward Goldstein 
Copyright
The National Museum in Cracow 
Acknowledgements
Beata Romanowicz, Curator of the Far Eastern Art Department, The National Museum in Cracow  
Owner
The National Museum in Cracow 
Museum
The National Museum in Krakow 
Credit line
 

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