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Unique Japanese lacquerware on show at Royal Cornwall Musuem

By AliceWright  |  Posted: September 11, 2012

  • Spherical box on display at Royal Cornwall Museum

  • Decorated inro, a Japanese container, by Nemoto Tsukuro, on display at Royal Cornwall Museum

  • Decorative tray or plaque by Kaneko of Tokyo, on display at Royal Cornwall Museum

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An exhibition of probably the largest collection of Japanese Shibayama lacquerware in the country has gone on show at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

Shibayama is an art form that was characterised by inlaying exquisitely carved pearl-shell, stained and painted ivory and horn, coral, jade, tortoiseshell and various hardstones into a lacquered wooden or ivory base.  

Purely ornamental, the lacquerware included vases, dishes, plaques, traditional table-screens and inros – small, personal medicine or seal boxes.

Highly ornate, and often exotic in their subject matter, the wide ranging collection of objects on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum is considered to be unique in the West.  

It has also been a well kept secret for nearly a hundred years, with only a small selection of pieces on display in the main galleries since 1991.

The artefacts on display were collected and bequeathed to the museum by C. H .T. Hawkins of Trewithen and Mr and Mrs Allen.  

None of them are believed to have visited Japan themselves so their collections are seen as an example of European fascination with all things Japanese from the 1860s to the turn of 20th century.  

Museum director Hilary Bracegirdle said: "We are very fortunate to have this extraordinary collection of Shibayama at the museum.

"It's the biggest exhibition of its kind for many years and there are some really wonderful items on display.  The colours are incredible."

The Japanese Shibayama exhibition has just opened and will continue until December 31. 

Entry to the Royal Cornwall Museum in River Street, Truro, costs £5 per adult for a one year pass and is free to anyone aged 18 and under.  

For more information, call the museum on 01872 272205 or visit www.royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk

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