In the late sixteenth century, Japanese lacquer makers had a global clientele and vied to come up with innovative designs. They produced portable desks with drawers, such as this one, for the European, and especially the Portuguese, market. The style is known as nanban (literally, “southern barbarian”), meaning foreign. This desk, or cabinet, has a fall-front panel with cartouche of open and closed Japanese folding fans inlaid with mother-of-pearl in the most intricate patterns.
The cabinet was modeled on a European vargueno, or writing desk. This one is unusual for the large number of its small drawers. The drawers surround a larger central locked compartment with architectural-style arch. Bands of geometric patterns in mother-of-pearl reflect Moorish or Gujarati influence on this exotic, hybrid style.
Very close in date and design is an export portable desk in the Nagoya City Museum, published in 2010 in Momoyama: Time of Transformation. There is a similar, smaller cabinet in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2015.500.2.29), and a somewhat similar export cabinet with decoration of Japanese folding fans, dating from the Momoyama period, in the Brooklyn Museum (84.69.1).