Gems and Jewellery of the Medici

Perhaps more aptly titled Tokyo Love : Part II, because I made it back!  I didn’t realise how much I missed Japan until I was in the throes of it – from checking out Star Wars merch in Akiba, seeing the country whizz by from the window of the Shinkansen, to trying to get to the other side of the intersection at Shibuya Crossing.  Speaking of that famous crossing, a fun fact I learned from a Tokyoite friend is apparently the number of people that traverse Shibuya Crossing daily is about equal to the population of Auckland.  Mind blown.

Unfortunately unlike my previous excursion, I wasn’t able to experience as much contemporary art or revisit wonderful galleries such as Misako and Rosen and SCAI The Bathhouse.  A case of too much to see and not enough time!  I have felt like that both times I have been to Japan, as my ‘To Visit’ list long outstrips my ‘Been There’ list 😛

I did, however, catch an exhibition called Gems and Jewellery of the Medici at Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum in Meguro.  The Medici Family made their fortune in banking and commerce, then rose to political power in the 15th Century, where they effectively were the rulers of Florence for about three centuries.  The family produced three Popes (Leo X, Clement VII and Leo XI), two Queen Regents of France (Catherine de’ Medici and Marie de’ Medici) and heavily patronized a number of artists, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Rubens to name a few, during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Thus their gems and jewels reflect their immense power and wealth.  Many of the pieces depict classical, mythological or Biblical figures and scenes which were more than likely used for self-promotion, symbolically asserting their political control and near god-like dominance.

This display of about 70 pieces is from the Palazzo Pitti’s Silver Museum a.k.a. the Medici Treasury.  Cameos, earrings, brooches, rings and all kinds of trinkets are interspersed with portraits of Medici family members, such as Lorenzo (‘the Magnificent’) and Isabella de’ Medici.  There are innumerable diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, carnelians; it is both bedazzling and bewildering.

A particular highlight was a diamond engraved with the Medici family coat of arms.  I am not sure how you would go about engraving a diamond as it is the hardest mineral, let alone achieve it without the use of modern technology some 500 odd years ago!  Another was an intricate gold carriage with, what looked like from a distance, a pile of mashed potatoes inside.  In fact, it was a number of pearls sewn together to form a sleeping baby under a blanket, complete with a detailed baby’s face.  Lastly, a fabulous pendant dragon with an elaborate, multi-coloured cloisonné back which harbours a pearl for a belly.  A number of the items astonish from first sight, and then astound when you circle around the glass cases and realise there is more – so much more!  It is a level of wealth that in some ways is hard to comprehend, and to think that it is only a portion of the Medici collection is stupefying.

Click on the link below and scroll to the bottom for images.  The page is in Japanese and can be translated through your browser, as for some reason the images don’t appear on their English page:

A riveting exhibition which will leave you with stars in your eyes, what was of equal, or greater, fascination was the stunning and sumptuous building that housed it.  The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum was built in 1933 and was the former residence of Prince and Princess Asaka.  The Prince and Princess had lived for a period in Paris and visited the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriel Modernes (now abbreviated to Art Deco) in 1925.  So influenced by what they saw, they commissioned their residence in Japan to be done in the style.  The rooms were designed by Henri Rapin with decorative contributions from René Lalique, and the project was overseen by Yōkichi Gondō from the Construction Bureau of the Imperial Household Ministry.  After WWII, it became the official residence for prime ministers, and then was a state guesthouse.  In 1983, it was converted into a museum.

As noted in Art Deco in the Former Prince Asaka Residence, the residence ‘represents a rare fusion of Japanese and French design… …but may also reflect the fact that at the time, disparate cultures throughout the world were embracing a similar aesthetic.’  Patterns which are similar to those seen in traditional Japanese design such as the seigaiha (concentric circular wave design) are also visible in many other cultures, and are part of the international Art Deco vocabulary.[1]

There are a boundless number of beautiful things to see in this building, but a distinct favourite was the glass relief doors by René Lalique in the front entrance hall.  They depict female figures with large outstretched wings that curve upwards to resemble haloing suns; a friend noted he was getting serious Wayne Manor vibes off them 😀  Another exquisite marvel by Lalique are the glass relief ceiling lights in the great dining hall, designed to look like pineapples and pomegranates.  Upstairs, the circular roomed study and the adjoining library were both designed by Rapin, and are honestly the rooms of my dreams.  I suspect I was a bit more captivated by the building than the exhibition!

Gems and Jewellery of the Medici is on until Tuesday 5th July 2016 at Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.  If you wear pearls (artificial is ok) you can take ¥100 off your ticket price 🙂  And if you are a fan of Art Deco, I highly recommend checking this place out – the grounds are also delightful.  It is only about a 5 minute walk from Meguro Station East exit.

Thanks for visiting!


[1] Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture/Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Art Deco in the Former Prince Asaka Residence (Tokyo: Koeisha Co., Ltd, 2014), p. 9.


Tokyo Love ♥


It has been a while since I last posted, and I hope this post finds you well 😀  I got away from Auckland recently, and finally visited the land of the rising sun.  I’ve been fascinated by Japan for a number of years, and I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to marvel at its epic wonders.  It did not disappoint!

In between getting my geek on in ‘Akiba’ (Akihabara), soaking in the tranquillity of Fushimi Inari Taisha, and having my senses overloaded by pachinko parlours, I managed to squeeze in a little art.  I visited two contemporary art galleries in the eternally intriguing city of Tokyo.

My first destination was Misako and Rosen in Kita-Ōtsuka.  Ōtsuka station is a quaint stop off on the forever busy Yamanote Line, a stone throw away from the big touristy spots such as Shinjuku and Harajuku.

Misako and Rosen, Kita-Ōtsuka (exterior). Photo Credit: Raven about Art

The small gallery is unassuming from the outside and a touch tricky to find, which simply makes the interior all the more captivating. Run by Misako and Jeffrey Rosen, it features stunning concrete stairs that sprawl the width of the gallery – a refreshing set up.  Climbing these stairs adjusts your perspective on the displayed works, offering a slightly altered view with each step.

Check their website for more on the exhibitions and add it to your Tokyo ‘To Visit’ list!

I managed to catch two exhibitions at Misako and Rosen; firstly Maya Hewitt’s The forgiven ghost in me.  Hewitt is a London based artist and has completed a number of residencies in Japan over the past decade.  Her paintings are detailed, figurative pieces that are haunting and sombre – small scenes that allude to so much more going on.  There are vibes of artists Remedios Varo and Séraphine Pick in Hewitt’s work.  Her figures appear quite static which gives them a childlike quality, yet also generates a feeling of detachment.  I find Hewitt’s paintings bizarrely fascinating, towing an ambiguous line between the intimate and removed.  I like to think that her figures are in such deep introspection that it barely registers on their faces.

The second exhibition was Made in Tokyo by Dutch artist Daan van Golden, and marks his first solo show in Japan since living there in the ‘60s.  Much like Pop Art, his works are greatly influenced by his surroundings – some of the patterns are adapted from found objects, such as wallpaper and fabrics.  One even bears the words ‘Mitsukoshi’ which is the name of a Japanese department store.  Yet some artworks bear splashy embellishments, and with titles like ‘Pollock’ there are evocations of Abstract Expressionism.  Through enlarging particular sections of patterns it is like seeing the images afresh, highlighting the inherent structure of the decorative and the intensity of van Golden’s focus.  Some of the works he has painstakingly painted, whilst others are Giclée prints.  You do get the impression that van Golden is a consummate collector, constantly discovering.  This exhibition presents a slideshow and photographs interspersed between his works, and I feel van Golden unifies life and art in this wonderful space.  Made in Tokyo runs until Sunday 1st June 2014.

After I posted this, Contemporary Art Daily popped some pics of the exhibition online.  Please follow the link below, which also includes images of those fabulous stairs:

And I thought I would add some directions for first time visitors, I hope they make sense!

1)     Jump on the JR Yamanote Line to Ōtsuka station and go through the North Exit

2)     Go down the centre left street which has a Starbucks on the corner

3)     Stay on this street for a while until you pass a ¥100 Lawson store and see a dusty park up ahead on the right

4)     Turn left (the Lawson’s isn’t quite on the corner but it should be the 8th street on your left, if you count the little lanes)

5)     The gallery will be on the left hand side of the street 🙂

My second stop was SCAI The Bathhouse in Yanaka, a historical old Tokyo neighbourhood.  The gallery was previously a 200 year old bath house, before being reincarnated in 1993.  Some of the amazing original detailing such as the sloped tiled roof, entrance hall and lockers are still evident, and exude a lovely ambience.  When venturing there from Nippori train station you pass through the tranquil Yanaka Cemetery, whose boulevards for a short time each year are covered in cherry blossoms.

SCAI The Bathhouse, Yanaka (exterior). Photo Credit: Raven about Art

SCAI The Bathhouse, Yanaka (lockers). Photo Credit: Raven about Art

A group show titled Visions of Proximity was showing when I visited, and showcased four contemporary artists of Asian descent: He Xiangyu, Haroon Mirza, Daisuke Ohba and Nobuko Tsuchiya.  Working across various mediums such as sculpture, installation and painting, the artists examine synesthetic perceptions, or the way that the stimulation of one sense creates a response in another.

Stepping into SCAI The Bathhouse is almost like stepping into a hallowed muted space.  And then you hear the whirring of Haroon Mirza’s Detroit Reconfigured (2012).  This installation features corner walls covered with acoustic foam, opposite a speaker topped with an unusual wheel shaped attachment.  At first glance it looks like the robot from Lost in Space (1965-68).  It emits a droning sound and flashes LED lights intermittently and seemingly at random.  I found the longer I spent with this work, the more I was able to find the rhythm within the arbitrary, inflicting my own sense of musical order as my perceptions of it altered.  Sight and sound began to behave like two instruments in an orchestra playing a beautiful symphony.

Weaving further into the gallery, you encounter Log (Waterfall Behind a Tree) (2014) by Daisuke Ohba hung on the back wall.  When standing before this work front on, it looks like a blank series of small tiles ready to blend into the white walls of SCAI.  Then you survey it from left to right, and back again, and there is the big reveal: an exquisite landscape lush with trees.  Light is your friend with Ohba’s paintings, unveiling like a magician, the image hidden within the work.  He uses iridescent acrylic paint to achieve the pearly white surface that captures and reflects light, and at times throwing colours in your path.  Ohba’s work is superb and serene, and I like the way he challenges how we typically view the painted surface.  I must admit I had heaps of fun crouching and straining on my tippy toes, querying what I was seeing and wondering how he did it 😛  Visions of Proximity runs until Saturday 31st May, do check out their other works along with those by He Xiangyu and Nobuko Tsuchiya.

Follow the link below for more info, and their access page has directions on how to find it 🙂

Another fantastic gallery that is a ‘must see’ is the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Marunouchi. The red brick building was designed by British architect, Josiah Condor in 1894.  It tends to exhibit European art of the late 19th Century, and the building and the neighbourhood is quite a contrast to the aforementioned galleries in Kita-Ōtsuka and Yanaka.  It’s worth visiting for the building alone, plus the courtyard looks totally ivy league 😛

Click on the link to learn more:

Until next time Japan, I’ll be back soon x