134.6 x 130.8 cm (53 x 51 1/2 inches)
Gift of Brown University
This elaborate palanquin, or onna norimono (“ride for a woman”), transported a bride of high social standing to the groom’s residence on their wedding day. The exterior is constructed in wood and embellished with black lacquer, gold paint, and metal fittings. Two repeated crests serve as decoration and signify that the groom descended from Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), the first military ruler, or shogun, of the Edo Period.
The compact interior is embellished with an armrest and scenes from The Tale of Genji, an 11th-century masterpiece of Japanese literature, written by a noblewoman about court life. On the back wall is a celebratory depiction of a pine tree, crane, tortoise, and bamboo, all of which are auspicious symbols related to Hōraisan, the
island of immortality. The wisteria crest of the Ichijō family, of which the bride was a member, appears on the coffered ceiling, alternating with the three-lobed crest of the Tokugawa family. The slatted windows, covered with silk gauze, allowed the bride to look out without being seen. The long pole threaded through the top brasses was she means by which two or more strong men lifted and carried the palanquin.
One of only a few palanquins in the United States, this example was perhaps the first to enter the country. In 1878 it was presented to Brown University’s museum of natural history by Philadelphia minister Elias R. Beadle. When Brown dissolved the museum in 1915, the university lent the palanquin to the RISD Museum, eventually gifting it in 2004. The interior paintings as well as the exterior lacquer and brasses were conserved by a team of specialists in 2010 with the assistance of the Sumitomo Foundation of Japan.