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A Christian Lacquer Shrine (Seigan)
A Christian Lacquer Shrine (Seigan)


A Christian Lacquer Shrine (Seigan)
Momoyama Period (late 16th century)
The two-door shrine of typical form with hinged doors opening to reveal a frame, decorated in gold hiramaki-e and inlaid in mother-of-pearl on a black ground with some later over-lacquering, possibly European, the doors with wild pinks, grasses and foliage, the interior of the doors with tree peony, the frame with geometric design, engraved copper gilt fittings
27cm. high

Lot Essay

Between 1571 and 1640 Portuguese traders accompanied by Jesuit missionaries sailed into the Bay of Nagasaki once a year on an enormous carrack. In 1640 the shogun put into effect a seclusionist policy that closed the country to all outsiders other than Chinese merchants, a handful of Dutch traders, and occasional Korean emmissaries. Within a few years Christianity was a capital offense. Until 1624 there was also a small trade between the Japanese and the Spanish, who were based in the Philippine Islands. Spanish ships sailed every summer from Manila to Mexico and a few entered Japanese ports. Small teams of Spanish Franciscan friars propagated their faith in Kyoto, Nagasaki and elsewhere. This shrine results from that dynamic conflation of East and West around 1600.

The Portuguese Jesuits commissioned local craftsmen to make votive objects for use in the churches they were establishing in Japan and for export to the West for profit. The fad for namban art was at its peak between about 1590 and 1614. Few pieces have survived in Japan itself as most were confiscated during the severe persecutions of Christian missionaries and converts in the 1620s and 30s. Most namban ("southern barbarian") lacquers, so called because the foreigners came to Japan from the south, have been found in the West.

For further research and similar examples see T. Watanabe, Nanban Lacquer, Some New Discoveries, Percival David Foundation, (London, 1981).

Similar examples were sold:
Lot 811, 2nd December 1982, Christies New York
Lot 31, 19th November 1985, Christies Great Rooms, London.

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