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    

Large Lot Of Various Chinese Items Finials Boxes Seals Etc Jade Amethyst EtcMagnificent Chinese Sterling Silver Boxe 807 Grams Yintang / ShanshanChinese Export Silver Tea Caddy Woo Shing Unlisted Maker 9 OzAntique Chinese Oriental Intricately Carved Sandalwood Wood Box - Unusual!Important Antique 18th Century Chinese Deeply Carved Box C.1780Chinese 18th Century White Jade And Silver BoxChinese Canton Famille Rose Medallion Porcelain Box Or Tea Caddy #1119th C. Carved Chenxiang Wood Card Case Two Chinese Wood Jade Boxes Cabinets Cases With Carvings EtcChinese Export Silver Scholars Box Wang Hing C1890 Antique Chinese White Jade Jewelry Footed Box Celadon Pierced Estate FindAntique Chinese Annamese Vietnam Celadon Box & Cover 14th-15th CenturySmall Antique Chinese Rectangular Qianjiang Box W/ Cover By Wang YoutangChinese Canton Famille Rose Medallion Porcelain Box Or Tea CaddyChinese Antique Japanned Lacquer Wax Vesta Seal Candle Match Box Case Taper TinChinese Export Silver Flask Wang Hing C1890 Lovely Chinoiserie Papier Mache Cylindrical Box, C1900Fine Old Chinese Brass Relief Imperial Dragons Lion Dogs & Peacocks Trinket Box2 X Antique Chinese Ivory Coloured Round BoxesFine Antique Hand Carved Figural Card Case...estate Find Lovely Patina!!!Two Republican Period Bronze Box/incense Container19c Chinese Wood & Black Lacquer Covered Box W/ Mop Inlay Butterflies Phoenix NrThree Large Chinese Porcelain Vases Of Various DesignFine Old Chinese Brass Enameled Auspicious Buddha Signs Motif Scholars BoxAntique Chinese Sterling Coin Silver Hand Carved Scholar Cigarette Case Box Old Edward I Farmer Box With Ming Dynasty Jade Peony Flower And Coral Center Fine Old Chinese Etched Brass Carved Jade Inlay Scholars Cigarette Trinket BoxOld Handwork Copper Silvered Jewelry Box With Porcelain Lid Paint Dragon Bx43h46Magnificent Antique Chinese Or Korean Lac Burgaute Abalone Inlaid Dresser Box 17th C Qing Dynasty Kangxi Blue And White Teacups SaucersAntique Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Box 5"x6"x1.25" Fine Quality Qing Vintage Chinese Carved Cicada Inro Box & Opium Pipe Holder With Insects & PipeAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Bronze Repousse Prunis Flower Paste Box 19 Century Chinese Export Solid Silver Box Cigar Box Dragon Engraved MarkedF207: Chinese Wooden Box Made From Popular Karaki With Mother-of-pearl WorkVintage Chinese Boxed Bamboo & Bone Mahjong Games Set - 151 CountersUnusual 18th C Chinese Porcelain Imari Miniature Child's Tureen And CoverTwo Small Chinese Famille Rose Seal Paste Boxes, Signed, Republic PeriodLarge Antique Solid Brass Asian Chinese Box General Aaron Bradshaw Estate CbxCinnabar Box With Brass Trim.Super China Old Sandalwood Collectable Hand Carved Dragon Ornament Incense BoxRare ChineseChina Old Bone Collectable Handwork Carved Elephant Painting Flower Snuff Box Asia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Flower Jewel Box17th C Qing Dynasty Kangxi Blue And White Covered Box17th C Qing Dynasty Kangxi Blue And White TeapotAntique Chinese Enamel Box High Relief Decoration 6.75x3.5x2" Super QualityVintage Chinese Carved Lidded Trinket Jewelry Box Ornate Floral DesignsGood Vintage Chinese Carved Ivory Coloured Wood CompassChina Old Handwork Porcelain Carving A Couple Make Love In The Dolphins BoxVintage Fabienne Jouvin Blue Cloisonne Enamel Butterfly Papillon Lidded JarVintage Cloisonne Lidded Box Cigarette & Matchbox Cover Charming Water Scene Antique Chinoiserie Round Box "papier MachChinese Cinnabar-ashtray-china-1950sOld Chinese Wedding Bridal Rattan Red Blue Inside Painted Wood Box ButterfliesFine Old Chinese Brass Cloisonne Enamel Imperial Dragon Matchbox Vesta CaseRare Handwork Miao Silver & Cloisonne Carved Noble Jewel Box For Ring & Necklace Old Handwork Cloisonne Painting Blooming Flower Delicate Spices Box & Jewel BoxHuge Antique Chinese Japanese Hand Carved Gold Gilt Jewelry Dresser Casket Box!!Small Cloisonne Round Circular Pill Box Lot Of Three 3