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Japanese Lacquer

The art of lacquer in Japan comes from China and the valuation between lacquerware from China or Japan is sometimes difficult, and to differentiate lacquerware from China or Japan is not easy.

The art of lacquer in Japan came from a long tradition dating back to very ancient times (Jômon period - before 5000 BC - 3rd century BC). Techniques will be improved over time, from the Buddhist lacquerware of the Nara period (645 - 794) to the refinement of the lacquerware from the Muromachi period (1392 - 1573), through the delicate lacquerware of the Heian period (794-1185), until reaching the summits of technicality which will make the fame of Japanese lacquerware.

The Japanese lacquer (guri) is appreciated for its fineness and its refinement, in particular in its decorations with gold and gold powder on lacquered black ground. The furniture (chests, cabinets...), but also smaller objects, boxes, writing cases, kobako, shodana, suzuribako, inro, for the use of emperors, shoguns and aristocrats, were preciously lacquered. The brilliance of Japanese lacquerware and the delicacy of their gilded decorations (maki-e, hiramaki-e, hirameji, takamaki-e techniques) made them appreciate in their country and in Europe. In the Iberian peninsula during the Momoyama period (1573-1603), Namban objects, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (raden) decoration (lacquerware, porcelains, screens, altarpieces, religious objects for the Spanish and Portuguese)).

The use of the technique of “aventurine” lacquer, known as nashi-ji, intensifies over the centuries. The artists also develop other techniques and aesthetics, inspired by the lacquerware of China and Korea.

Negoro lacquerware, or the so-called Ro-iro black lacquers with a red maki-e decoration, offer a sober and powerful aesthetic that meets the criteria of wabi sabi and which particularly appeal to tea masters such as Sen no Rikyû.

The Edo period (1603 - 1868) is really important in the evolution of the art of lacquer. The craftsmen will develop new techniques to produce lacquers with a shimmering aesthetics, adorned with coral, enamel, porcelain, precious stones ... This taste for ornamentation is particularly noticeable in the production of the Genroku era (1688-1704). At the same time, the Rimpa school, led by Ogata Kôrin, develops decorative compositions inspired by Japanese classical literature.

The lacquers of the Ryukyu Islands use a technique and aesthetic, resulting from the techniques of Ming Chinese lacquerware. The lacquers are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, or painted polychrome lacquers are sometimes engraved and encrusted with gold.