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    

Superb Antique Chinese C1880 Games / Playing Card Lacquer Box Antique 19th Century Chinese Paktong White Copper Ink Box With Engraving PoemAntique Chinese Carved Sandalwood Card Case Cantonese C.1900Antique Fine Carved Detailed Chinese Wooden Box Sandalwood C1880 Good DetailFine Antique Chinese Export (to Persia) Solid Silver Snuff Box Khecheong C1830Chinese Antique Large Box, Can, Export Solid Silver, Dragonhide 426 Gr Chinese White Copper Paktong Bronze Calligraphy Writing Scholar Ink BoxChinese Paktong Bronze Scholar's Calligraphy Ink Box Late Qing / Republic PeriodChinese Antique 3-piece Set, Export Solid Silver, Luen Wo Shangai 1880 DragonAntique Chinese Blue & White Landscape Box Qing 18th/19th Century ... N0 ReserveFine Antique Vintage Chinese Sandlewood Highly Carved Trinket Box – 100+ Yrs OldChinese 2 Small Plates, Dragon And Bamboo Decor Export Solid SilverAntique Chinoiserie Papier Mache Glove BoxVintage Chinese Gold Dragon Box Shen Shao An Shoonkee China With Buddhism SymbolChinese Export Silver Dragon Box C1880 Wang HingLovely Vintage Carved Natural Desktop Cigarette Box. Pre 1945. Rare ItemNingbo Republican Folk Art Lacquer Bamboo Wedding Picnic Dowry Basket Box Nr Yqz19th Century Large Chinese Canton Carved Box Masterpiece19th Century Chinese Export Large Black & Gold Lacquer Asian Antique Writing BoxChinese Mandarin Double Hat Box vintage Collection Old Handmade Rare Lacquer Writing Instruments Cartridge BoxAntique Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Brass Enamel Round Carved Scholar Box Vintage Chinese Export Carved Cinnabar Black Lacquered Coffee Table Jewelry BoxChina Fine Old Stone Ink Stone, Paint Box Packing, Double Happiness CharactersChinese Antique Ancient Buddha Buddhist Color Relic Box Monk Crystal Tower 舍利塔 2Asian Green & White Jade Silver Trinket Snuff/pill BoxCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Child Flower Fish Jewel BoxOld China Handmade Superb Copper Jewelry Ring Box With Porcelain Bird Lid Bx54e1Antique Chinese Enamel Dragon & Phoenix Silver Vermeil BoxCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Wood Painted Dragon Jewel Box & DresserAntique Geisha Jewelry Box - Ivory Inlay Red Silk Lined - Very Nice / Very Old Fantastic Antique Chinese Huanghuali Collectors Cabinet Inlaid Mother Of PearlChinese Scholar's Bronze & Copper Ink Stone Box - Fish LotusThe Ancient Chinese Bronze Dragon And Phoenix. Jewelry Box Boxwood Highly Difficulty Carved Floding Box --- Avalokitesvara & Heart SutraChinese White Porcelain Round Plum Blossom Flower Coccoloba Toothpick Box vintage Collection Old Handmade Rare White Cloisonne Peony Tea Pot BoxRare Signed Chinese Scholar Dream Stone Ink Box 34th Republic At Da Li Yun NanCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Flower Jewel BoxVintage Collection Old Buddha Dish Sitting Lotus Statue Holding Jar Censer BrassGood Sized Antique Chinese Enamelled BoxAncient Chinese Old Cloisonne Collection Carved Bird Statue Ring BoxChina Handwork Wood 3 Box Exquisite Classical Jewel BoxDecorated 100% Boxwood Highly Difficulty Carved God Of Wealth Statue Folding Box vintage Collection Old Handmade Cloisonne Color Flower Tea Cups  vintage Collection Old Handmade Pair Cloisonne Flower Toothpick BoxFree Shipping Cost Porcelain Jewelry Box Painted Nice Little Flowers Don't MissAntique Chinese Cloisonne Wood Scholar Box Rosewood (?)Chinese Antique Cloisonne Enamel - Bumble Bee Peking Glass Silent Butler BoxChinese Carved BoxVery Beautiful China's New Tibet Silver Production Jewelry Box CnCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Flower Jewel BoxChinese Old Pure Copper Brass Ink Bed Bronze Bronze Art Collections Of ArtAncient Chinese Cloisonne Apple Shape. Jewelry Box Superb Vintage Armored Chinese Copper Handwork Toothpick Box Chinese White Porcelain Round Boy Geezer Old Man Toothpick Jewelry Box CoccolobaCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Bronze Carved Skull Box & StatueSuperb Old China Folk Art Handmade Superb Book Shape Wood Usable Jewelry Box Bx5Square Nice Porcelain Jewelry Box Painted Yellow Flowers Free Shipping 1.5" InchPorcelain Jewelry Box Painted Yellow Flowers From Jingdezhen Free Shipping 1.5"