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Box and cover c.1860-69

Wood decorated in gold lacquer, pewter, glass and stone | 5.0 x 23.0 x 25.9 cm (parts .a and .b together) | RCIN 29453

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  • Shallow, the overfitting cover with raised flat top and rounded edges. Decorated on a ground of finely sprinkled gold fushimi in takamakie and lighter gold, with on the top and sides, a design of two long-tailed pheasants with eyes inlaid with glass, one having a pewter-grey body, on a sprinkled gold fushimi ground with plants and grasses, under a flowering peach tree. Inside the cover, seven flying birds in relief.

    The cover of this box depicts two pheasants and a flowering peach tree – a combination derived from the print and painting genre, kachō-e (‘bird-and-flower pictures’). Paintings of this kind emerged in China during the Song dynasty (960–1279), when they were classified as a type distinct from portraits and landscapes. The subject was taken up in Japan during the Muromachi period (1392–1573) and soon appeared in a myriad of styles and media, including screens and woodblock prints. Bird-and-flower arrangements were also translated onto lacquerware, often in stylised form. Far more than mere nature studies, such scenes had specific seasonal and poetic connotations. In this instance, the pheasants and peach blossoms represent spring.

    Prince Alfred kept this box at his London residence, Clarence House, following its exhibition at the South Kensington Museum in 1872. It can be seen mounted on the wall in the ‘Indian Room’ there, in a photograph dated c.1870–80. The display had been installed by May 1875, when Queen Victoria went to visit the enlarged and redecorated property and saw ‘2 old Drawing rooms … newly done up & full of the armour, china, & curios brought back by Affie [Prince Alfred] from abroad’.

    Text adapted from Chinese and Japanese Works of Art in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen: Volume III and Japan: Courts and Culture (2020).


    Almost certainly presented to Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh by Emperor Meiji during his visit to Japan in 1869.

    Lent for exhibition at the South Kensington Museum in 1872 ('The Cruise of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, K.G. round the World in H.M.S. "Galatea"...', cat. no. 98) Visible in a picture of the Indian Room at Clarence House dating c.1870-80 during the Prince's time of occupancy (RCIN 2102090). Loaned to the Bethnal Green Museum with other items from the 'Saxe Coburg Collection' on 3 June 1901 (no.614). Recorded in Queen Mary's Private Property Vol. III, no. 174.

  • Medium and techniques

    Wood decorated in gold lacquer, pewter, glass and stone


    5.0 x 23.0 x 25.9 cm (parts .a and .b together)

  • Object type(s)
  • Place of Production