Translating visions: A japanese lacquer plaque of the Haram of Mecca in the L. A. Mayer Memorial Museum, Jerusalem

Anton Schweizer, Avinoam Shalem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This article focuses on a curious artifact, a relatively small Japanese lacquered plaque with a depiction of the sacred area (al-Haram) of the Ka'aba in Mecca, which is kept at present in the L. A. Mayer Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. The piece belongs to a limited group of Japanese export lacquers dating to the late eighteenth century. In contrast to earlier export lacquers, which generally used Japanese decorative elements applied to European or Japanese types of object, around 1780 a new style appeared that rejected every reference to traditional Japanese design elements in favour of strictly European compositions, subjects, and strategies of visual consumption. It is likely that this shift of taste was the result of the individual initiatives of some of the employees at the Dutch trading station at Dejima on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The plaque's iconography was clearly modeled after an optical print of an engraving by Jan Goeree, which was specifically made as an illustration of the "Templum Meccanum" in De Religione Mohammedica by Hadrianus Relandus, first published at Utrecht in 1705 (second edition 1717). This artifact is thus a visual document that illustrates ways of translating visual phenomena in an intercultural context. While introducing the most recent European developments in representation and print technique, the plaque retained the intensely charged material aesthetics of Japanese makie lacquer. At the same time it is an outstanding document of the semi-objective and scholarly reception of Islam in Europe at the very beginning of the eighteenth century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-173
Number of pages26
JournalArs Orientalis
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Archaeology


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