CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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MARTIN, Mattgew
Stitching together lacquer cabinets

Session 14 The Other and the Foreign: Contact, Curiosity, and Creative Exchange

National Gallery of Victoria


A small group of early seventeenth-century painted cabinets preserved in various public and private collections represent some of the earliest known examples of imitations of Asian lacquer produced in England. This paper will consider the form and decoration of these cabinets against the background of furniture and lacquer wares imported into Europe from Asia in the early seventeenth century. It will argue that the cabinets do not reproduce any one class of imported Asian luxury commodity but rather represent a complex amalgam of diverse sources and influences including European print sources of the type employed for needlework. The cabinets evidence an intense interest in the materiality of imported Asian exotica, but the primarily European content of the pictorial elements evidence a seemingly random selection of motifs with no regard for their original context and meaning. The result is pictorial scenes whose individual elements seem familiar, but whose overall symbolic content is opaque, emulating the illegibility to early seventeenth-century English viewers of the pictorial and symbolic content of imported Asian artworks. The cabinets thus evidence the construction of an ‘otherness’ attributed to Asia and its commodities from familiar European material and visual resources.

MARTIN, Matthew 

Matthew Martin completed a PhD in classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne (2000) and an MA in Art History from the Melbourne College of Divinity (2011). He holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Art Conservation Studies form the University of Melbourne (2005). He is Curator of International Decorative Arts and Antiquities in the National Gallery of Victoria and was formerly Director of Studies at the Melbourne College of Divinity.