Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The "Mazarin Chest" on display

A wonder of 17th century Japanese craftsmanship, the black and gold lacquer trunk known as the Mazarin Chest is an export product. That's not exactly a compliment in the world of high art. In this case, a European-style chest made in Japan for a foreign market is adorned with scenes from Japanese literature, but a tradition of decorative restraint is subsumed by a European appetite for ornamental excess. Nearly every available space is filled with intricate patterns and narrative imagery.

"Nonetheless, it's probably our most important Japanese object," says Julia Hutt, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which has lent the chest and other objects to “Tales in Sprinkled Gold: Japanese Lacquer for European Collectors,” an unusual exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum. "Artistically it is really on a par with objects made for the domestic market by the best workshops in Japan. The detail is just amazing."

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