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Chinese Lacquer

Lacquer is a characteristic medium of Chinese art. China has intensely developed the art of lacquer.

Lacquer is a varnish from the sap of the lacquer tree (rhus vernicifera). It is harvested and used in China since ancient times. Thus, lacquer is used on many objects since the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220). These lacquers are characterized by their black and red decoration with patterns imitating the textile. Under the Song (960 - 1279), the return to scholar aesthetic is felt in the production of lacquer. The tastes of the mandarins and the literati turn to black lacquerware, of small size and sober aesthetics. The Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) is truly a golden age for lacquer in China. The craftsmen develop new techniques and surpass themselves to produce famous red lacquers of Beijing. The realization of these lacquers is extremely long and complex, the decors are directly carved in the thousands of thin layers of lacquer that were previously laid on the object. These lacquers were exceptional objects reserved for the use of the Emperor of China and the Imperial Court. The same applies to the polychrome lacquers tianqi. In the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), the red lacquers of Beijing were also very popular, especially under the patronage of Emperor Qianlong, who commanded them in large numbers at the imperial workshops for his personal use.

The burgauté lacquers, lacquered in black with fine mother-of-pearl inlays, were a great success with the Europeans, who imported them in large numbers as early as the 17th century. The furniture, and in particular the lacquer screens of Coromandel, were also extremely sought after by the Westerners.