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Telling the story of 400 years of British royal contact with Japan

Japan [Asia]

Cabinet 1640-90

Wood, black and gold lacquer, gilt bronze | 96.5 x 99.5 x 52.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 35273

Queen's Audience Chamber, Windsor Castle

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The design of this cabinet represents a type of Japanese export lacquer popular for its decoration of landscapes with mountains and temples overlooking water. Its shape is adapted from earlier export cabinets with a fall-front concealing drawers of various sizes, cabinets which were probably inspired by Portuguese and Spanish escritórios or bargueños. European collectors may have been unfamiliar with some of the decorative elements, such as detailed allusions to specific seasons. Here, the animals and plants on the doors and drawers evoke autumn. The geese (kari) on the outer doors are about to land after their celebrated migration southwards, signalling the start of the harvest season in the eighth lunar month, which was traditionally known as kanraigetsu (‘the month of the geese’s return’). The ten drawers and the sides of the cabinet are decorated with a combination of the ‘seven grasses of autumn’ (aki no nanakusa) and other autumn-blooming flowers such as the gentian (see the view of the cabinet with its doors open, below right).

This cabinet closely resembles one depicted in an 1816 watercolour of The King’s Gallery at Kensington Palace: it may have been acquired by Queen Caroline, consort of George II, who formed a valuable collection of Japanese lacquer. Alternatively, the cabinet could have been placed in The King’s Gallery as early as 1695, when William III remodelled the State Apartments following a fire there.

Text adapted from Japan: Courts and Culture (2020)