This remarkable little chest was apparently made as a sample with a view to soliciting orders for full-size pieces from representatives of the Dutch East India Company. The proportions of height to width, 1: 2.12, are almost exactly the same as those (1: 2.15) of a very large chest (more than 142cm. wide), now lost but formerly in the collection of Sir Trevor Lawrence, sold in these Rooms in 1916 (29 May, lot 262) and again in 1941 from Llantarnam Abbey near Cwmbran, Gwent [see 1 below]. Fragments from a still larger chest, apparently with the same design, survive as panels in a nineteenth-century Boulle-work cabinet in the Jones Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and both chests, as well as the V&A's famous Mazarin chest, are partly decorated with scenes from the eleventh century Tale of Genji. As might be expected on a maquette of this kind, the design of the front is much simplified but seems to refer, like the Lawrence chest, to Chapter 28 of the Tale of Genji, entitled Nowaki [see 2 below]. The main elements of the landscape on the lid - bridge, mountains and water-side pavilions - are also similar on both the miniature and the full-size chest, but the surrounding floral and geometric ground is different, confirming the hypothesis that several larger "Mazarin" chests were manufactured; perhaps some of them, like this one, had slightly domed covers.
As noted by Christian Jorg, representations of human figures are rarer in export lacquer after about the middle of the seventeenth century and there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Mazarin chest dates from the late 1630's [see 3 below]. While the maki-e on this sample is not as rich as on the full-size chests, it seems reasonable to assign it to about the same date. It is interesting to note that although no documentary evidence has yet been published for the existence of Japanese-made models such as these, it is known that in 1649 the Dutch "factory" (trading post) at Nagasaki used models sent from Siam to order lacquer from the Japanese, and we may speculate that charming little miniatures like this one might have helped ease the fraught negotiations described by Jorg [see 4 below].
1. This great chest is reproduced as the frontispiece and plate XXXIX of Huish, M.P., The Collection of Japanese Works of Art of Sir Trevor Lawrence Bt. (London, 1895), cat. no.1110.
2. Earle, Joe, "Genji Meets Yang Guifei: A Group of Japanese Export Lacquers", Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 47 (1982-3), (45-75), 46, 47, 57.
3. Jorg, C.J.A., "Japanese Export Lacquer - interactions between the Japanese and the Dutch in the 17th Century", in Fukuoka Art Museum, Nihon bijutsu no naka no seiyo [Western Influence on Japanese Art - 16th Century-19th Century] (Exhibition catalogue 19 August-24 September 1995; Fukuoka, 1995), (55-64), 55, and Earle, op.cit., 67-9.
4. Jorg, op. cit., 58 and passim.