A rare letter box (fubako) decorated with playing cards

A rare letter box (fubako) decorated with playing cards

Early Edo period, 17th century

21.5 x 7 x 4 cm

The antique rectangular box and cover decorated in gold and silver takamaki-e [high relief lacquer] on a nashiji ground with scattered Unsun Karuta [Japanese playing cards in Portuguese style] depicting various designs in Nanban style.

The antique Portuguese 48-card deck arrived in Japan in the mid-16th century, supposedly brought by Francis Xavier. It had 4 suits - cups, swords, coins, and clubs - said to represent the four classes of medieval Europe: priests, knights, merchants, and peasants. Decks went through various permutations to get around the prescriptions, including the revised pack called Unsun Karuta - a mix of European, Chinese, and Japanese motifs - which is what is pictured here. It will be noticed that the Japanese, not quite understanding the motif of the chalice, favored picturing it upside down like a Buddhist jewel, with the stem sprouting from the top. Another characteristic worth mentioning is the presence of the dragon: on original Portuguese decks, dragons were already found instead of aces, while in Japan they have their own value, depending on the game played.

The decoration features a fuji kamon on one card, found also on the gilt metal kanamono, indicating the original owner’s clan.

Antique original Japanese lacuqer for sale. Price on application. Please include item stock number: lacc-1309

 

 

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