Folding Lectern with IHS Insignia and Linked Hexagrams in Makie and Mother-of-Pearl Inlay

Unknown16-17th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

This folding lectern to hold a Bible bears the Jesuit emblem. Several lacquered lecterns in makie (sprinkled metal design) with IHS insignia are known, but the designs surrounding the emblem differ. This piece is decorated with a geometric design: a chequerboard border enclosing a hexagram lattice structure with interlinked circles and a floral motif, executed in mother-of-pearl inlay and hiramakie (flat sprinkled metal decoration) of fine gold powder resembling gold and silver paintwork. On the reverse of the book-support is a design of orange blossoms incorp orating enashiji (pictorial pear-skin) decoration; the back of the lectern has borders of Nanban arabesques enclosing tightly packed kudzu vine scrolls on the back panel and morning glories on the legs. Folding stands carved out of a single piece of timber like this are not found in the Japanese carpentry tradition, leading to the conclusion that the structure is taken from Muslim lecterns of the Islamic world. The existence of a lectern in the same shape and construction inlaid with Indian silverwork and another adorned with Chinese metal-leaf decoration suggest that people who had seen Islamic lecterns travelled to Japan and directed the production of the current piece in makie and mother-of-pearl inlay. This item gives us a vivid picture of seaborne commerce in the Great Age of Navigation.

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