For Chinese artisans and designers, boxes were always more than mere utilitarian objects. These containers for trinkets, jewelry, and games were often thickly lacquered until their surfaces could be carved and polished. Beyond lacquerware, artisans fashioned boxes from carved bone or filigreed silver. The European technique of cloisonné was also a popular treatment on Chinese boxes, as were similar treatments such as niello.

One of the most intriguing characteristics of Chinese boxes, other than the range of materials and techniques used to produce them, is that they are not necessarily square or even rectangular. Chinese boxes are often shallow and circular, with straight, intricately carved sides. Other boxes are lobated, resembling, for example, flower-like pentagons with rounded protrusions rather than a quintet of acute angles. Then there are the octagons, whose bases and covers often have gently curving sides that meet in the middle, where the boxes can be opened to reveal their contents.

In Europe, beginning in the 17th century, two conflicting terms described the influences of Asian art on the West. One was chinoiserie, which is a French word describing Chinese motifs in everything from architecture to pottery. The other term was japanning, which referred more particularly to lacquering techniques in furniture and decorative objects.

The word japanning suggested that these lacquering techniques originated in Japan, and, indeed, in the centuries that followed, many scholars believed that to be the case. But it is now widely accepted that lacquerware originated in China, and that its artists migrated to places like Japan and Korea to practice and promulgate their trade.

Most lacquered boxes began with an armature of wood if the box was large, a mud-like stucco if the box was of medium size, or hemp if it was small. Countless layers of lacquer were applied to the armature, each of which had to dry before another could be applied. Sometimes 200 to 300 layers were applied to a piece, each of which was sanded first with charcoal ash and then horn ash. Carving and inlay came later and was equally time-consuming.

Chinese boxes made of metals like copper and silver were enameled to produce cloisonné, a technique imported to China from Europe. Fine wire separated the enamels in the surface of the box to create everything from sprays of delicate flower blossoms to gaudy fire-breathing dragons. In fact, many cloisonné boxes produced in China were made for export to Europe, precisely to fulfill the European image of Chinese culture and aesthetics.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

C1840 Chinese Gold Gilt Lacquer Imperial Figures Scenic Sewing Jewel Chest BoxSuper Georgian Lacquer Lacca Povera Box Italian Chinoiserie 1780 Kite Grand TourExceptional, Large 18th/19th C Chinese Carved Celadon Jade Box W/ LidAntique 19thc Chinese Sterling Silver Canton Enamel Scholars Snuff Pill Box CaseAntique 19thc Chinese Sterling Silver Canton Enamel Scholars Snuff Pill Box CaseAntique Chinese Carved Red Cinnabar Lacquer Qing Box With Calligraphy. Superb.Antique Chinese Export Lacquered Games BoxSigned 19thc Chinese Qing Bronze Stone Inlaid Scholars Ink Box Seal CaseVintage Good Chinese Cloisonne Enamelled & Gilt Cigarette Case, Circa 1935Chinese Jewellery Jade Jewelry Box Chest Rosewood Lock Key Brass Fittings Nr YqzFine Antique 19thc Qing Chinese Export Canton Carved Crucifix Box With PendantLarge 19thc Chinese Carved Pewter Dragon Figural Cigar Brush Desk Box CaseAntique 19thc Chinese Qing Paktong Silver Pierced Top Censer Hand WarmerAntique Victorian Japonned Black Lacquered Lead Lined Tea Caddy Box - 428 M12Exquisite Antique Chinese Export White Metal / Silver Plated Box C1890Chinese Enameled Silver Lided Box Carved With Figures & Flowers, MarkOld China Superb Wood Box With 1 Set Solders Shape Chess Paint Dragon Phoenix BxSuperb Antique Chinese Hand Deep Carved Filigree Basket Box Qing Dynasty 19th19thc Antique Victorian Era Oriental Wood Primitive Old Pantry Box Or Tea Caddy19c Chinese Hand Carved Canton Needle CaseSuperb Collection Handmade Cherry Bark Exquisite Unique Tea CaddyAntique Chinese Wood Jewelry Casket Box Carved Jade Stone Panel & BrassElegant & Impressive 19thc Famille Rose Box, Chinese Porcelain Antiques Antique Chinese Silver Snuff Box , Chinese Hallmarks , Weighs 88 Gms China Old Handwork Wood Box With Abacus Paint Dragon Phoenix Bx52d37 vintage Collection Old Handmade Wood Carving Unique Jewelry Box Vintage Chinese Japanese Carved Hardstone Wood Embossed Brass Jewelry BoxAsian Chinese Old Bone Collectable Handwork Carved Monkey Statue Jewel Box DecoMing Style Covered Blue White Porcelain Box 100 Boys Motif - Xuande Mark YqzOld Handmade Wood Jewelry Box With Makeup Mirror And Drawer Paint Dragon Bx52d50Superb China Handmade Wood Book Shape Jewelry Box Paint Dragon Phoenix Bx52d45Rare Large 19th C. Antique Qing Dynasty Round Cinnabar Lacquer Scholar's BoxChinese White Copper Paitong Paktong Round Scholar Ink Box With Chirography vintage Collection Old Handmade Golden Pine Incense Burner Bronze Casting Old China Wood Jewelry Box With Makeup Mirror And Drawer Paint Dragon Phoenix BxChinese Old collect Handwork Precious Cattle Bone Carving Birds Three Smoke Box Antique Oriental Chinese Sterling Silver Floral Enamel Pill Box, MarkedAntique Chinese Carved Sandalwood Card CaseAntique Mosaic Sandalwood Card CaseVintage Collection Old Brass Casting Plum Flower Bird Lid Censer Incense Burner Old China Folk Art Wood Usable Compass With Box Paint Dragon Phoenix Bx52d52Antique Chinese Pewter Peach Shaped Box Signed Inscribed Makers MarkBrass Enamel Champs Levees Tobacciana Cigarette Box Games Bridge Card Coffer Yqz vintage Collection Old Handmade Cute Cat Porcelain Copper Jewelry Box Mah Jong SetChinese Old Leather Collectable Hand Painting Dragon Phoenix Ancient Writing BoxAntique Chinese Black Enamel Cloisonne Box With ButterfliesCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Wood Painted Dragon Phoenix Dresser & BoxVintage Chinese Cloisonne Trinket Box Enamel On Copper Blossoms Cloud DiaperChinese Old Leather Collectable Handwork Painting Dragon Phoenix Box OrnamentChina Old Handwork Superb Wood Snuff Tobacco Box Carved Calligraphy Bx52d19Superb Old Decoration Brass & Enamel Cloisonne Storage Pot / Jar & Circular BaseExceptional Antique Pair Of Deep Carved Indo Chinese Trinket Pots No ReserveAntique Chinese Pewter Lided Box W Precious Stones Inlaid, MarkedAntique Chinese Hand Hammered Silver Mini Dressing Case / Cosmetic Case W MirrorAsian Chinese Old Jade Collectable Handwork Carved Fish Statue Jewellery BoxChinese Collectable Handwork Wooden Delicate Paper Extraction BoxOld Folk Art Wood Box With 1 Set Solders Shape Chess Paint Dragon Phoenix Bx52d4Antique Chinese Carved Hardwood Box With Dragons, Peaches & BatsAntique Chinese Enamel Box High Relief Decoration 6.75x3.5x2" Super Quality