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Rolltop Desk




Meiji period (1868-1912)


Rolltop Desk


Late 19th c.


Maki-e lacquer on wood, mounts of silver-copper alloy (shibuichi)


171 x 105.7 x 69.5 cm


Gift of Vivian and David Campbell, inv. 1971.Df.1


Archeology and World Cultures

The top section of this desk suggests the shape of a Japanese Shintō shrine, and the lower section, comprising a rolltop desk and drawers on two pedestals, is a form that evolved to satisfy nineteenth-century demand in the West for both commercial and domestic use. The table presents a conflation of Oriental motifs meant to satisfy Western curiosity about Japan. For instance, the motif of carp swimming in swirling waters on the rolltop – an Asian symbol of strength and courage – proved popular in the West: it was introduced through the ukiyo-e prints of Hiroshige and Hokusai, and emulated in etchings and ceramics by French artists like Félix Bracquemond. This desk well represents the type of objects coveted by Western Japanophiles at the end of the nineteenth century. To satisfy the craving for all things Asian, exotic pavilions were painted on the pedestals, further conveying a picture-postcard Oriental effect.

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