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    

19th 20th Cen Chinese Silver Tea Caddy Enamel Birds W/ Filigree Stones Coral Large Antique 19th C Chinese Carved Jade Lid Only No BoxAntique 19thc Chinese Export Solid Silver Large Dragon Casket C.1890Chinese Gilt Silver Covered Box With Cabochons And Inset Jade PlaqueExceptional Deep Carved !! Canton Export Chinese Card Case, Ca. 1850Chinese Export Canton Carved Hinged Box With Figures, 19th CChinese Export Cloisonné Enameled Hinged Box W Flowers, Lao-tian-li Mark, 1508gGood Vintage Chinese Laquered And Hand Carved Box. C1890.Antique Sterling Silver 925 Art Nouveau Brilliant Period Cut Glass Powder Jar NrSuperb 19th C.century Chinese Deep Carving Card CaseB120: Popular Chinese Tsuishu Lacquer Ware Ink Stone Case With Good WorkAntique Chinese Wood Carved Hinged Box With FiguresLarge Rare Antique Chinese Cantonese Deeply Carved Sandalwood Card CaseCollection Vintage Old Handmade Brass Buddhist Lotus Incense Burner CenserCollection Handwork Porcelain Paint Dragon Play Ball Exorcism Rare Toothpick Box19th Cen Chinese Green Jade Jewelry Box W/ Pink Jade Elephant Knop Old Handwork Wood Box With 1 Set Carved Solders Shape Chess Paint Dragon Bx56k54Superb Collection Vintage Old Handmade Jade Carved Swallow Jewelry Box Lid Beef Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Cloisonne Carved Flower Rouge BoxSuperb Collection Vintage Old Handmade Decoration Leather Lacquer Jewelry BoxAntique 19th Century Chinese Tangram Carved Puzzle Box Complete With 7 PiecesChinese Pewter Desk Box Hand Decorated Part Of Chinese Silver CollectionCollection Vintage Old Handmade Golden Cloisonne Flower Toothpick / Jewelry Box vintage Collection Old Handmade Exquisite Jade Cattle Bone Copper BoxVintage Chinese Mock Bamboo Handbag Box Antique Chinese Cinnabar Red Lacquer Circular Covered Box vintage Collection Old Handmade Exquisite Excellent Wooden Jewelry Box HeartAntique Chinese Import Silver Mother Of Pearl Etui Case 18th Century No ReserveAntique Old Chinese Silver Porcelain Jewelry Box ~blue & White Floral PatternsCollectible Handwork Cloisonne Carving Blooming Charming Flower Lucky Jewel Box Collectible Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Vivid Flower Auspicious Lucky Jewel BoxChinese Export Silver Box Six Barttling Dragons & Pearl Hung ChongChinese Silver Pillow Frame Set Complete Set C1875 Antique Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Brass Covered Round Box Stylized Famille RoseLarge Antique Chinese Carved Wood Box With DragonAntique Chinese Carved Cinnabar Dark Maroon Victorian Stamp BoxChinese Old Silver Inlay Cow Bone Turtle Cloisonne Collectable Hand Carved Box vintage Collection Old Handmade Delicate Cloisonne Jewelry Box Jewelry BoxCollectible Jingdezhen Porcelain Painted Flower Teapot Shape Lucky Toothpick Box vintage Collection Old Handmade Exquisite Jade Cattle Bone Copper BoxChina Collectible Decorate Handwork Old wood 3 Box Noble Jewel Box Cricket Box Wood Two-level Mother Of Pearl Butterfly Inlay 2 Doors 7.5" Tall ~rare~chinese Silver Hammered Repousse Cigarette Case "amazing"Antique Chinese Painted Enamel Trinket Box C1850 Damaged Superb Collection Handmade Decoration Wooden Box Phoenix Delicate BeautifulOld China Handwork Superb Wood Snuff Tobacco Box Carved Figure Bx56k27Superb Collection Vintage Old Handmade Decoration Cloisonne Jewelry BoxCollectible Old China Tibetan Copper Sutra Box Armored God Turquoise Bead Bx56k2Decorated 100% Boxwood Highly Difficulty Carved God Of Wealth Statue Folding BoxExquisite Bone- Handmade 3 Jewelry BoxChinese Old Porcelain Armored Copper Kylin Painting New Marry Esoterica BoxCollectible Handwork Cloisonne Carve Night Owl Royal Family Lucky Rare Jewel BoxChinese Hand Carved Wood Card Case Qing Period 19th COld Handwork Superb Wood Jewelry Box With Makeup Mirror And Draw Paint DragonChina Old Handwork Wood Box With Usable Abacus Paint Dragon Phoenix Bx56k42Antique Tiny Chinese Trinket Jewelry Box Floral Cloisene EnamelChina Old Handwork Superb Wood Box With 1 Set Carved Solders Shape Chess Bx56k55China Old Handmade Wood Jewelry Box With Makeup Mirror And Draw Bx56k58Chinese Old Blue Cloisonne Collectable Handwork painting Peace Dove Bird Statue Old China Handwork Superb Porcelain Jewelry Box Armored Dragon Phoenix Bx55h03