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Japanese Export Lacquer and Global Art History: An Art of Mediation in Circulation

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Art, Trade, and Cultural Mediation in Asia, 1600–1950

Abstract

Japanese export lacquer was enmeshed in a complex network of commercial and artistic relations. Raw materials were brought from Southeast Asia to Japan, where finished lacquerware was made for export. Japanese export lacquer adapted Chinese and Indian decorative techniques, as well as European designs for motifs, forms, and functions. Chinese or Ryukyuan junks along with Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch ships carried lacquer to places in Asia , Europe, and the Americas, where it was adopted and emulated. Lacquer thus provides a prime example of an art of mediation that involved Europeans and Asians in processes of circulation in the global history of art.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    André Gunder Frank, Reorient. Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

  2. 2.

    This is of course the way that contemporary Chinese in the period of the Ming dynasty might have liked to have seen their ‘middle kingdom’ (central country, Zhongguo): see Craig Clunas, Empire of Great Brightness. Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China, 13681644 (London: Reaktion, 2007), 74.

  3. 3.

    Leonard Blussé and Felipe Fernández Armesto, “Introduction,” in Shifting Communities and Identity Formation in Early Modern Asia, ed. Leonard Blussé and Felipe Fernandez Armesto (Leiden: CNWA, 2003), 2.

  4. 4.

    For relations between Asia and Latin America, see, for example, the essays collected in Asia and Spanish America. Trans-Pacific Artistic and Cultural Exchange, 15001850, ed. Donna Pierce and Ronal Otsuka (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2009).

  5. 5.

    See Serge Gruzinski, L’aigle et le dragon: démesure européenne et mondialisation au XVIe siècle (Paris: Fayard, 2012).

  6. 6.

    Blussé and Fernández-Armesto, ibid., 3. This approach seems to follow some lines established by the well-known book by Alfred W. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange. Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1972).

  7. 7.

    See Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann and Michael North, “Introduction: Mediating Cultures,” in Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia, ed. Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann and Michael North (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press; Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 7–20, and also eidem, “Introduction—Artistic and Cultural Exchanges Between Europe and Asia, 1400–1900: Rethinking Markets, Workshops and Collections,” in Artistic and Cultural Exchanges Between Europe and Asia, 14001900. Rethinking Markets, Workshops and Collections, ed. Michael North (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010), 1–8. For the notion of mediation as used here see further Astrid Erll, “Circulating Art and Material Culture: A Model of Transcultural Mediation,” in Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia, 321–28.

  8. 8.

    See Jean-Louis Margolin and Claude Markovits, Les Indes et L’Europe. Histoires connectées XVeXXIe siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 2015); Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Explorations in Connected Histories (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2 vols.

  9. 9.

    See Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Catherine Dossin, and Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel, Circulations in the Global History of Art (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015).

  10. 10.

    Notably as ‘hybrid’ or ‘mestizo’: for an overview of the first of these notions see Peter Burke, Cultural Hybridity (Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2009). For ‘mestizo’ cultures see most notably the work of Serge Gruzinski, expanded to the global dimension in Les Quatre Parties du Monde. Histoire d’une mondialisation (Paris: La Marinière, 2004).

  11. 11.

    There is an extensive bibliography on lacquer : a good introduction to the varieties and antiquity of Asian lacquer is provided by James C. Y. Watt and Barbara B. Ford, East Asian Lacquer, the Florence and Herbert Irving Collection (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991).

  12. 12.

    See Kaori Hidaka, “Maritime Trade in Asia and the Circulation of Lacquerware,” in East Asian Lacquer: Material Culture, Science and Conservation (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011), 6–8.

  13. 13.

    For an introduction to the networks established, see Etsuko Miyata Rodriguez, “The Early Manila Galleon Trade: Merchants’ Networks and Markets in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Mexico,” in Asia and Spanish America, 37–57.

  14. 14.

    The fullest account of Japanese export ware is O. P. Impey and C. J. A. Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer 15801850 (Amsterdam: Hotei, 2005), incorporating and superseding earlier studies by Impey, and with full bibliography to the date of publication. See further for early lacquer made for Europe, Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, “O Fascínio de Cipango. Artes Decorativas e lacas da Ásia Oriental em Portugal, Espanha e Áustria (1511–1598),” in Os Construtores do Oriente Português (Porto: Edifico da Alfâmdega, 1998), 195–223.

  15. 15.

    For the general question of nanban art and the reciprocal influences of Iberians on Japanese art and Japanese art in Iberia see Arte Namban. Influencia española y portuguesa en el arte japonés siglos xvi y xvii (Madrid: Museo del Prado, 1981); Maria Helena Mendes Pinto, Biombos Namban/Namban Screens (Lisbon : Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 1986); Traje Namban (Lisbond: Muso de Arte Antiga, 1994); and Biombos Namban/Namban Screens (Porto: Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis, 2009). For lacquerware , see especially Lacas Namban: huellas de Japón en España: IV Centenario de la Embajada Keichô = Namban Lacquer: Japan Remained in Spain: 400 Years After the Keicho Embassy (Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Fundación Japón, 2013).

  16. 16.

    The fullest recent account of Jesuit workshops in Japan , using sources from Japanese as well as Western European languages, though focusing on paintings , is Noriko Kotani, “Studies in Jesuit art in Japan ” (PhD dissertation, Princeton University, 2010), now being prepared for publication.

  17. 17.

    For a general discussion of the use of mother-of-pearl in lacquer , see Denise Patry Leidy, Mother-of-Pearl. A Tradition in Asian Lacquer (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006).

  18. 18.

    For two such objects see Nuno Vassallo e Silva, “A Companhia de Jesus e as artes decorativas no Oriente português,” in Arte Oriental nas Colecções do Museu de São Roque (Lisbon : Santa Casa da Misericórdia, 2010), 21, Figs. 5 and 6. For a definition of pyxes and their uses, see Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann “Pyxes and Ciboria,” in Eucharistic Vessels of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA: Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1975; New York: Garland, 1977 [2nd ed.]), 65–68.

  19. 19.

    See John Nelson, “Myths, Missions, and Mistrust. The Fate of Christianity in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Japan ,” History and Anthropology 13, no. 2 (2002): 93–111.

  20. 20.

    For a good brief account of the Dutch involvement in the lacquer trade, see Christiaan J. A. Jörg, “Dutch VOC Records as a Source for dating 17th Century Japanese Export Lacquer,” in After the Barbarians. Namban Works of Art for the Japanese, Portuguese and Dutch Markets (London and Lisbon : Jorge Welsh, 2007), 42–50; see also in general Impey and Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer.

  21. 21.

    Huixia Chen, Qing gong shi hui: yuan cang Riben qi qi te zhan/Japanese Lacquer from the Ch’ing Court Collection (Taipei: Chu ban, 2002).

  22. 22.

    As exemplified by the trade in such goods carried on by Jorge Welsh (see note 20).

  23. 23.

    For Japanese (and Chinese ) porcelain and its circulation, see most recently Robert Finlay, The Pilgrim Art. Cultures of Porcelain in World History (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2010), and Chinese and Japanese Porcelain for the Dutch Golden Age, ed. Jan van Campen and Titus Eliëns (Zwolle: Waanders, 2014).

  24. 24.

    See the bibliography in Impey and C. J. A. Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer.

  25. 25.

    Cynthia Viallé, “Japanese Lacquer Cabinets in the Records of the Dutch East India Company,” in Japanische Lackkunst für Bayerns Fürsten. Die Japanischen Lackmöbel der Staatlichen Münzsammlung, ed. Anton Schweizer et al. (Munich: Staatlichen Münzsammlung, 2011), 31–46; eadem, “Fit for Kings and Princes: A Gift of Japanese Lacquer,” in Large and Broad. The Dutch Impact on Early Modern Asia. Essays in Honor of Leonard Blussé, ed. Nagazumi Yōko (Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko, 2010), 188–222; eadem, “Two Boxes and Two Balustrades; Private Orders for Fine Japanese Export Lacquer,” in East Asian Lacquer: Material Culture, Science and Conservation, ed. Shayne Rivers, Rupert Faulkner, and Boris Pretzel (London: Victoria and Albert Museum and Archetype, 2011).

  26. 26.

    For a good general introduction see Miho Kitagawa, “Materials, Tools and Techniques Used on Namban Lacquerwork,” in After the Barbarians, 70–88. See also Femke Diercks, “Inspired by Asia. Responses in the Dutch Decorative Arts,” in Aisa in Amsterdam. The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age, ed. Karina H. Corrigan et al. (Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum; Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015), especially 246–47.

  27. 27.

    See Pedro Cancela de Abreu, “The Construction Techniques of Namban Objects,” in After the Barbarians, 52–68.

  28. 28.

    As discussed in general by Pedro Moura Carvalho, “The Circulation of European and Asian Works of Art in Japan , circa 1600,” in Portugal, Jesuits and Japan. Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods, ed. Victoria Weston (Boston: McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 2013), 37–43.

  29. 29.

    The process is frequently described: a good recent account with illustrations is offered in Meiko Nagashima, “Japanese Lacquers Exported to Spanish America and Spain,” in Asia and Spanish America, 107–17.

  30. 30.

    See Encompassing the Globe. Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Reference Catalogue, ed. Jay A. Levenson (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2007), 164 (cat. J-6).

  31. 31.

    See Ralph Isaacs and T. Richard Blurton, Visions from the Golden Land: Burma and the Art of Lacquer (London: British Museum, 2000); Uta Weigelt, Birmas Lackkunst in deutschen Museen (Münster: Museum für Lackkunst, 2005); and Ralph Isaacs, Syliva Fantin-lu, Catherine Reymond, and Than Thon U, Lacque et or de Birmanie (Milan: Silvana, 2011).

  32. 32.

    See, for example, Gunter Rudolf Diesinger, Ostasiatische Lackarbeiten sowie Arbeiten aus Europa, Thailand und Indien (Braunschweig: Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, 1990), 257–63.

  33. 33.

    Takayuji Honda, Rong Lu, Nobuhiko Kitanto, Yoshimi Kamiya, and Tetsuo Miyakoshi, “Applied Analysis and Identification of Ancient Lacquer Based on Pyrolysis-Gas Chromatography/Mass,” Journal of Applied Polymer Science 118 (2010): 897–901. See further the essays in Japanische und europäische Lackarbeiten: Rezeption, Adaption, Restaurierung: Deutsch-Japanisches Forschungsprojekt zur Untersuchung und Restaurierung historischer Lacke, gefördert durch das Bundesministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft, Forschung und Technologie = Japanese and European Lacquerware: Adoption, Adaptation, Conservation, ed. Michael Kühlenthal (Munich: Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, 2000).

  34. 34.

    See Impey and Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer, 95.

  35. 35.

    For examples of these from an early European collection see Diesinger, Ostasiatische Lackarbeiten.

  36. 36.

    See in general for the information in these paragraphs Arlen Heginbotham and Michael Schilling, “New Evidence for the use of Southeast Asian Raw materials in Seventeenth-century Japanese Export Lacquer,” in East Asian Lacquer: Material Culture, Science and Conservation.

  37. 37.

    Wil. O. Dijk, Seventeenth-Century Burma and the Dutch East India Company (Singapore: NIAS Press, 2006), 125–26; Appendix V (cd), 82.

  38. 38.

    Heginbotham and Schilling, “New Evidence”; however, Dijk, Burma, Appendix 5, 92, reports that most wood oil exported by the Dutch went to Batavia (Jakarta ) where it was probably used for ships.

  39. 39.

    Heginbotham and Schilling, “New Evidence,” 8.

  40. 40.

    As recorded abundantly in Dagregisters /Diaries Kept by the Heads of the Dutch Factory in Japan (Tokyo: Daigaku Siryo Hensanjo: 1974–2007), 11 vols., passim.

  41. 41.

    De Dagregisters van het Kasteel Zeelandia, Taiwan, 16291662, ed. J. L. Blussé, M. E. van Opstall, and Ts’ao Yung-ho, with the collaboration of Chiang Shu-sheng and W. Milde (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1986–2000) passim. See below for an example of Japanese lacquer shipped via Taiwan.

  42. 42.

    It should be recalled that while places like Goa , Malacca , and Macao were in Portuguese hands, from 1580–1640 the king of Spain was also king of Portugal.

  43. 43.

    See the entry by Alexandra Curvelo in Encomendas Namban. Os Portugueses no Japão da Idade Moderna/Namban Commissions. The Portuguese in Modern Age Japan (Lisbon : Museu Fundação Oriente, 2010), 160 (cat. no. 40); unfortunately, the entry does not indicate if traces of Japanese lacquer were found mixed with that of Southeast Asian lacquer. See also eadem, “Nanban Art: What’s Past in Prologue,” in Portugal, Jesuits and Japan, 76.

  44. 44.

    Curvelo, Encomendas, 155–60.

  45. 45.

    Curvelo, ibid., 158.

  46. 46.

    Curvelo, ibid., 156, cites a document from 1563.

  47. 47.

    I owe this information to a communication from Maria Cristina Osswald, who has made an intensive study of the archives in Goa . Osswald’s most comprehensive work on Jesuit architecture in Goa and their features has been published as Cristina Osswald, Written in Stone. Jesuit Buildings in Goa and Their Artistic and Architectural Features (Goa: Goa 1556 and Golden Heart Emporium Bookshop, 2013). See further for the Goan milieu Paulo Varela Gomes, Whitewash, Redstone. A History of Church Architecture in Goa (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2011).

  48. 48.

    For the creation of lacquer objects for the Portuguese and Dutch markets as well as for local Japanese one, see Teresa Canepa, “Namban Works of Art for the Japanese, Portuguese and Dutch Markets,” in After the Barbarians, 14–29, and Alexandra Curvelo, “The Black Ship,” ibid., 30–40.

  49. 49.

    See Jordan Gschwend, “O Fascínio”; Impey and Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer, 235–36 for the Spanish. See also Impey and Jörg, ibid., 232–35, for the Portuguese . Early Dutch trade in nanban lacquer , perhaps initiated by the Portuguese, is considered, ibid., 242–45.

  50. 50.

    Impey and Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer, 251–64.

  51. 51.

    For illustrations and identification of these images, see Milo Cleveland Beach and Ebba Koch, King of the World. The Padshanama. An Imperial Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle (London: Azimuth, 1997; Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution), 56–59 and 179–80.

  52. 52.

    Jordan Gschwend, “O Fascínio de Cipango,” 195; Koch, King of the World, 179.

  53. 53.

    Pedro de Moura Carvalho, “Oriental Export Lacquerwares and Their Problematic Origin,” in Exotica. Portugals Entdeckungen im Spiegel fürstlicher Kunst-und Wunderkammer der Renaissance (Jahrbuch des kunsthistorischen Museums Wien 3 (2000), ed. Helmut Trnek and Sabine Haag, 246–61; commentary on plate on 255. See further Pedro Moura Carvalho, Luxury for Export. Artistic Exchange Between India and Portugal Around 1600 (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2008), 30–33 (cat. no. 3).

  54. 54.

    “Langwerpige [beteldosen] in forme van een meloen,” in a letter from Nicolaas Baukes to Hendrik Canzius in Deshima, Nationaal Archief, The Hague, archive of the Dutch factory in Japan , 1.04.21, inv. 313, Bengal; cited in an entry by Cynthia Viallé, Asia in Amsterdam, 114, n. 4.

  55. 55.

    For the general impact of the Portuguese at the Mughal court, see Goa and the Great Mughal, ed. Jorge Flores and Nuno Vassallo e Silva (Lisbon : Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; London: Scala, 2004). For the importation of objects by the Dutch to other courts in India see Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Europeans in the Deccan,” in Sultans of Deccan India. Opuence and Fantasy, ed. Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven and London Yale University Press, 2015), 309–12 and also 319–24 (cat. no. 193–96).

  56. 56.

    See for an overview of this subject the many references in Robert Finlay, The Pilgrim Art. Cultures of Porcelain in World History (Berkeley, Los Angles, and London: University of California Press, 2010), 233–38, 245–48.

  57. 57.

    Cf. Moura de Carvalho, Luxury for Export, 30–31. There is also another way to interpret the evidence for Indian production of lacquerware . Even assuming that it existed, for which as suggested we have no sure evidence, the Indian Bengali and Coromandel lacquer industry would have produced black and gold pieces, and imitated East Asian works, which would have been inspired by Japanese lacquerware. It should also be noted that there is no evidence for the export of Southeast Asian lacquer from Burma to India that has been found in the Dutch East India archives: see Dijk, Seventeenth-century Burma.

  58. 58.

    See Bhawan Ruangslip, Dutch East India Company Merchants at the Court of Ayutthaya: Dutch Perceptions of the Thai Kingdom c. 16041765 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007).

  59. 59.

    See the discussion of a box made in Japan about 1650 by Cynthia Viallé in Asia in Amsterdam, 113–14 (cat. no. 29).

  60. 60.

    Impey and Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer, 361–64.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., 95.

  62. 62.

    See Impey and Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer, for early trade and collecting in lacquer .

  63. 63.

    See for example Central European contexts Japanische Lackkunst für Bayerns Fürsten; Diesinger, Ostasiatische Lackarbeiten; Filip Suchomel and Marcela Suchomelová, A Surface Created for Decoration. Japanese Lacquer Art from the 16th to the 19th Centuries (Prague: National Gallery, 2002); Martha Boyer, Japanese Export Lacquers from the Seventeenth Century in the National Museum of Denmark (Copenhagen: National Museum, 1959); Phillip Herzog von Württemberg, Das Lackkabinett im deutschen Schlossbau: zur Chinarezeption im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert (Bern: Peter Lang, 1998); Michael E. Yonan, “Veneers of Authority: Chinese [sic] Lacquers in Maria Theresa’ Vienna,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 37, no. 4 (Summer 2004): 652–72, 702.

  64. 64.

    See Rodriguez, “Galleon Trade” and Magashima, “Japanese Lacquers.”

  65. 65.

    Sofia Sanabrais, “The Biombo or Folding Screen: Examining the Impact of Japan on Artistic Production and the Globalization of Taste in Seventeenth-Century New Spain ” (PhD dissertation, New York University, 2005), 133, 299.

  66. 66.

    Sofia Sanabrais, “The Biombo or Folding Screen in Colonial Mexico,” in Asia and Spanish America, 81 and Fig. 7, with arguments for the Japanese origin of the object, 102 n. 94.

  67. 67.

    See in general Rodrigo Rivero Lake, Namban Art in Viceregal Mexico (Madrid: Turner, 2005). The specific subject of lacquer in the Americas, including the kind of object mentioned here, is discussed in Mitchell Codding, “The Lacquer Arts of Latin America,” in Made in the Americas. The New World Discovers Asia, ed. Dennis Carr (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2015), 75–89.

  68. 68.

    See Sanabrais, “The Biombo or Folding Screen”; further Viento Detenido. Mitologías e historias en el arte del biombo. Colección de biombos de los siglos XVII al XIX de Museo Soumaya (Mexico City: Museo Soumaya, 1999).

  69. 69.

    For an overview see Ruth Lechuga et al., Lacas Mexicanas (Mexico City: Museo Franz Mayer, 1997).

  70. 70.

    For the Chinese junk trade and its involvement with the Dutch East India Company, also affecting Dutch trade to and from Japan , see Leonard J. Blussé, “The VOC and the Junk Trade to Batavia ,” in Strange Company. Chinese Settlers, Mestizo Women and the Dutch in VOC Batavia (PhD dissertation, Leiden, Proefschrift; also Dordrecht [as Verhandelingen, Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 122), 1986: 97–155; and idem, “The Batavia Connection: the Chinese Junks and Their Merchants,” and further Miki Sakuraba, “The Chinese Junks; Intermediate Trade Network in Japanese Porcelain for the West,” in Chinese and Japanese Porcelain for the Dutch Golden Age, 97–108, 109–27.

  71. 71.

    See Jordan Gschwend, “O Fascínio de Cipango,” 198–99.

  72. 72.

    And eventually the various French, English, Swedish, Danish, and Austrian Netherlandish companies could also have been involved.

  73. 73.

    See Dijk, Seventeenth-Century Burma, Appendix 5.

  74. 74.

    See Chinese Circulations. Capital, Commodities and Networks in Southeast Asia, ed. Eric Tagliacozzo and Wen-Chin Chang (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011).

  75. 75.

    See Kaori Hidaka, “Maritime Trade in Asia and the Circulation of Lacquerware,” in East Asian Lacquer, and Gabriela Krist and Elfriede Iby, ed., Investigation and Conservation of East Asian Cabinets in Imperial Residences (17001900): Lacquerware & Porcelain . Conference 2013 Postprints (Vienna: Böhlau, 2015).

  76. 76.

    Holden Furber, “Asia and the West as Partners Before “Empire” and After,” Journal of Asian Studies 28 (1969): 711–21; idem, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 16001800 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976); Tonio Andrade, How Taiwan Became Chinese : Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). The notion of this period being seen as ‘The Age of Partnership’ has inspired the TANAP series of monographs on the History of Asian-European Interactions: see Leonard Blussé, “Series Editor’s Foreword,” in Ruangslip, Dutch East India Company Merchants at the Court of Ayutthaya, vi.

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Kaufmann, T.D. (2019). Japanese Export Lacquer and Global Art History: An Art of Mediation in Circulation. In: Reyes, R. (eds) Art, Trade, and Cultural Mediation in Asia, 1600–1950. Palgrave Pivot, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-57237-0_2

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