Red lacquer cup stand
From the Ryūkyū Islands,
Edo period, 17th century AD
The Ryūkyū Islands (now known as Okinawa prefecture) are a chain of islands extending to the south-west from Kyūshū. Until the late nineteenth century they formed a kingdom with a certain degree of independence. However, their kings did pay tribute to China from the seventh century, and from 1609 they became vassals of the Satsuma fief at the southern tip of Kyūshū. Because of their geographical position, the Ryūkyūans were heavily involved in trade in the whole region and provided a staging post between China and Japan not only for trade but also for the transmission of artistic styles and techniques.
This cup stand, for example, is decorated using the chikinbori ('carved sunken gold') technique which originated in China and reached Japan via the Ryūkyū Islands. The technique consists of engraving fine lines in the lacquer and then filling the lines with gold powder. The design is based on the chrysanthemum motif, and the 'saucer' itself is in the shape of a stylized bloom. There are two marks on the base. Only one is legible. It reads ten ('Heaven'), suggesting possible use by the royal house of Chūzan.
L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)
Height: 7.000 cm
Asia JA 1974.2-26.74
Gift of Sir Harry and Lady Garner