Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Gold powder and gunpowder: The appropriation of western firearms into Japan through high culture
by Baldridge, Seth Robert, M.A., The University of Utah, 2015, 87; 10006268
Abstract (Summary)

When an object is introduced to a new culture for the first time, how does it transition from the status of a foreign import to a fully integrated object of that culture? Does it ever truly reach this status, or are its foreign origins a part of its identity that are impossible to overlook? What role could the arts of that culture play in adapting a foreign object into part of the culture? I propose to address these questions in specific regard to early modern Japan (1550–1850) through a black lacquered ōtsuzumi drum decorated with a gold powder motif of intersecting arquebuses and powder horns. While it may seem unlikely that a single piece of lacquerware can comment on the larger issues of cultural accommodation and appropriation, careful analysis reveals the way in which adopted firearms, introduced by Portuguese sailors in 1543, shed light on this issue.

While the arquebus’s militaristic and economic influence on Japan has been firmly established, this thesis investigates how the Kobe Museum’s ōtsuzumi is a manifestation of the change that firearms underwent from European imports of pure military value to Japanese items of not just military, but also artistic worth. It resulted from an intermingling of Japanese-Portuguese trade, aesthetics of the noble military class, and cultural accommodation between Europeans and Japanese that complicates our understandings of influence and appropriation. To analyze this process of appropriation and accommodation, the first section begins with a historical overview of lacquer in Japan, focusing on the Momoyama period, and the introduction of firearms. The second section will go into the aesthetics of lacquerware, including the importance of narrative symbolism and use in the performing arts with a particular emphasis on the aural and visual aesthetics of the drum. Finally, I will discuss this drum in the global contexts of the early modern era, which takes into account the tension between the decline in popularity of firearms as well as the survival of the drum. Pieced together, these various aspects will help to construct a better understanding of this unique piece’s place in the Japanese Christian material culture of early modern Japan.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kyan, Winston
Commitee: Kelly, Jessen, Suzuki, Mamiko C.
School: The University of Utah
Department: Art and Art History
School Location: United States -- Utah
Source: MAI 55/03M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: History, Asian Studies, Art history
Keywords: Arquebus, Firearms, Japan, Lacquer, Momoyama, Noh
Publication Number: 10006268
ISBN: 9781339440279