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.

Price band: 25,000€ - 50,000€

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

 

 

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