Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cabinet of Drawers with Birds and Flowers

Momoyama period (1573–1615)
late 16th century
Lacquered wood with gold and silver hiramaki-e; mother-of-pearl inlay
H. 16 1/4 in. (41.3 cm); W. 24 5/8 in. (62.5 cm); D. 13 3/8 in. (34 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Mary Griggs Burke Gift, 1989
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 226
The Portuguese and Spanish who visited Japan during the Momoyama period were fascinated by the beauty and exotic appearance of luxurious gold-decorated lacquerwares associated with the taste of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598). As a result, lacquers commissioned for the European market typically adopted this flamboyant style (Kōdaiji maki-e). Such pieces—among the earliest trade goods exported from Japan—are known collectively as “Nanban,” or “Southern Barbarian,” the Japanese appellation for foreigners who arrived “from the south.” Highly prized by the great families of Europe as luxurious exotica, they helped to define a “Japan aesthetic” for the Continent for more than three centuries. The form of the cabinet is based on European furniture, such as the vargueno or escritorios (chest of drawers with a drop front for holding documents and valuables), however the decorative patterns depict Japanese subjects, among others, including maple, mandarin orange, and cherry trees, camellia flowers, wisteria branches, and birds. The decorative bands of the borders are embellished with geometric designs. One of the characteristic features of the Nanban lacquers is the rich application of mother-of-pearl inlays. The symmetrically arranged drawers are behind a fall front and decorated with floral patterns, and the arched shape of the central drawer follows European architectural elements
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