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 Century Chinese Cantonsese Card CaseSuperb Antique Chinese Cantonese Card Case No ReserveAntique Chinese Carved Puzzle BoxChinese Teapot With Warmer Export Solid Silver, Shanghai 762 GFine Old Chinese Carved Lacquered Wood Lidded Portable Buddha Shrine BoxA Beautiful Chinese Porcelain B/w Plate With Figures 18th C.kangxiFine 19 Th Century Chinese Export Zitan Hongmu Wood Box Cantonese Fine Antique Chinese 19th Century Silver Enamel Sea Life BoxSuperb 19c Chinese Carved 2 Color Red & Black Cinnabar Lacquer Covered Box W Old Chinese Boxwood Carve Inkpad Box~dragon & Phoenix Flying In Auspicious CloudChinese Paktong Bai Tong Incense Burner Box Shou Longevity Three Segment SignedChinese A Pair Of Vases Export Solid Silver, Wc 90, 144 G Dragon ReliefAntique Chinese Export Silver Case Lw Luen Wo Shangai 19th C Chinese Carved Coconut And Pewter Box And CoverH680: Popular Chinese Tsuishu Lacquer Ware Ink Stone Case With Good WorkEarly 1900's Chinese Enamel Cloisonne Jewelry Box Chinoiserie Brass vintage Collection Old Handmade Cherry Bark High-grade Tea BoxesAntique 19thc Chinese Hand Painted Rose Medallion Round Box / Jar W/ Handled Lid20th C. Chinese Shousan Stone Carved Seal Jade BoxFine Old Chinese Carved Wood Lacquer Phoenix Cherry Blossom Jade Necklace BoxOld Chinese Lacquer Carved Inkpad Box Hardwood Inside~surface Carved W/lacquerAn Antique Chinese Silver Vase 19th Century.Antique 1800 Chinese Qing Dynasty Cloisonne Silver Plate Enamel Cedar Lined BoxCollectible Decorate Handwork Old Tibet Silver Carving Rattan Church Jewel BoxSuperb & Large 20th Century Chinese Signed Inside Painted Glass Snuff Bottle.Unusual Antique Chinese 19th Century Inlaid Hardwood Box Prunus & SparrowsChinese Ancient Aristocratic Miss Dedicated Blooming Flowers Wooden Jewelry BoxAsian Chinese Old Cow Bone Handmade Carved Collect Statue Box Q Queen Of Spades  vintage Collection Old Handmade Exquisite Excellent Wooden Jewelry Box HeartOld China Handwork Copper Jewelry Ring Box With Porcelain Bird Lid Bx54e09Antique Chinese Ivari Coloured Carved BangleSuperb Antique Chinese Faux Tortoiseshell And Lacquer Pictorial Cigarette Case vintage Collection Old Handmade Delicate Flower Green Leather BoxVery Beautiful Old Early Chinese Jewelry Box .19th C---early 20th CenturyFine Old Antique Chinese Famille Jaune Porcelain Box For The Scholar TableCollectible Old China Wood Usable Compass With Box Paint Dragon Phoenix Bx56k12Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Wood Painted Dragon Jewel Box & DresserAntique Dragon Wooden BoxLovely And Unusual Chinese Decorated Box, Possibly Silver.Antique Tiny Chinese Cloisene Trinkets Bowl And Canister EnamelChina Old Handwork Copper Snuff Tobacco Box Armored Dragon Phoenix Bx55h13Collection Vintage Old Handmade Brass Buddhist Lotus Incense Burner CenserCloisonne Cigarette Three-piece SetChinese Pewter Desk Box Hand Decorated Part Of Chinese Silver CollectionFine Old Chinese Silver Plate High Relief Jewled Coral Turquois Dragon Pill Box Collectible Old China Superb Wood Snuff Tobacco Box Carved Figure Bx56k31 vintage Collection Old Handmade Exquisite Excellent Packing Wood BoxChinese Boxwood 8 God Eight Immortals Set StatueOld China Handwork Superb Wood Jewelry Box Paint Dragon Phoenix Bx56k01Collectible Old China Handwork Wood Snuff Tobacco Box Carved Figure Bx56k39Chinese Old Tibetan Silver Dragon Phoenix Pipes Tobacco Leaf Box ForcepsSuperb Collection Vintage Old Handmade Decoration Leather Lacquer Jewelry BoxAntique Chinese Enamel Box And Matching Smaller Box Vintage Chinese Aqua And Pink Floral Cloisonne And Brass BoxVery Beautiful Old Early Chinese Jewelry Box .19th C---early 20th CenturyA Colorful & Unusual Shaped Chinese/japanese Porcelain Seal Paste Box Fine Old Chinese Blue & White Porcelain Dragon Scholars Seal Paste Wax Box~rare~chinese Silver Hammered Repousse Cigarette Case "amazing"Antique Chinese Cloisonne Circular Trinket Box With Lid Chinese Old Silver Inlay Cow Bone Turtle Cloisonne Collectable Hand Carved Box