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    

Antique 19thc Chinese Export Lacquer Chest, Gold Gilt Painted Decoration, NrAntique Chinese Cantonese Carved Card Case.carving With Figures.figurine.Exquisite Rare Antique Chinese Export Solid Silver Vesta Case; C1890Large Size Antique Faux Blonde Tortoise Shell Trinket Box Jewellery Casket NrC1890 Heavy Antique Chinese Export Slver Cigarette Case Dragons 176gA Good Antique Chinese Lacquer Cinnabar Box Qianlong Seal Mark 1800 Rare !C1890 Antique Chinese Export Reticulated Slver Cigarette Case ButterfliesAntique Chinese Qing Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Wood Box 19th C.19th Century Large China Chinese Canton Carved Box Large 19th Century Chinese Papier Mache Box With Hidden Tray Unusual Old BoxAntique Chinese Early 20th Century Gilt Enamel Copper Box With Carved Jade PanelUnique 100x Human Figure Chinese Lacquer Gild Box 19th C.An Old Finely Carved Celadon Gray White Covered Seal Paste Box On Wooden StandA High Quality Antique 19thc Carved Wooden "shou" Box With Peaches And Bats WoodAntique Chinese Song Dynasty Dehua White Glaze Porcelain Covered Box 19th-20th C. Carved Maybe Chenxiang Or Tanxiang Wood Card Case Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Box And Cover W 'thousand Flowers', MarkRosewood Jewellery Jewelry Box Silk Lined Jade Brass Mounts Chest Coffer Nr YqzNingbo Republican Folk Art Lacquer Bamboo Wedding Picnic Dowry Basket Box Nr YqzChinese Republic Period Cloisonne Large Round Covered Box W/ Flowers ButterfliesChinese White Copper Paktong Bronze Calligraphy Writing Scholar Ink BoxFine & Very Rare 18c Chinese Famille-rose Bird Form Covered Box, No ReserveA Perfect Antique Chinese Tombac Yuangshuang Medicine Scholars Box 19th CenturyFine Antique Vintage Chinese Sandlewood Highly Carved Trinket Box – 100+ Yrs OldChinese Export Silver Cruet Set Box Salt Pepper Mustard Wang Hing China, Drum Shape Famille Rose Porcelain Box, Late QingNice Chinese Carved Box - Carving With DragonsVintage Antique Old Chinese China Carved Cinnabar Box Red Lacquer Black Base19th Century Antique Chinese Carved Cinnabar Lacquer BoxAntique 19thc Chinese Hand Painted Lacquer With Gilt Ancient Life Scene BoxNice Antique/ Vintage Chinese Wood Box And CoverCollectible Decorate Handwork Old Tibet Silver Carving Flower Jewel Box19th Century Large Chinese Canton Carved Box MasterpieceAntique High Quality Mother Of Pearl Hard Wood Mirror/jewelry Box As FoundAntique 19th Century Chinese Paktong White Copper Ink Box With Engraving PoemAntique Carved Bone Small Box Chinese Asian Cantonese Trinket Cow BoneAntique Japanese Import By "a Price" Music Jewelry BoxEnamel Box Antique Vintage Crumb Box Asian Bird Flower Floral Handle Ashtray Antique Signed Asian Stacking Hexagon Reticutated Pewter Caddy BoxCollectible Decorated Old Handwork 0x B0ne Carved Figure Chest BoxFine Old China Chinese Famille Rose Polychrome Porcelain Tiered Box Ca. 1900Antique Ornate Carved Wood Chinese Box/storage Chest Stamp On BottomVintage Chinese Hand Made Brass & Jade Decorated Jewellery/trinket BoxAntique Chinese Blue & White Landscape Box Qing 18th/19th Century ... N0 ReserveOriental Vintage Copper Handwork Carved Cicada Collectable Snuff Box NrIn Good Condition Chinese Cloisonne Handmade Painting Belle Collect Jewel BoxAntique Chinese Export Lacquered Games Gaming Card Box W/7 Boxes & 10 Card Trays vintage Collection Old Handmade Rare Lacquer Writing Instruments Cartridge BoxBeautiful Chinese Unique Boxwood BoxVery Fine Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Box Marked Rare S859320th C. Chinese Tin Tea Container Box Chinese Scholar's Bronze & Copper Ink Stone Box - Fish LotusDecorated 100% Boxwood Highly Difficulty Carved God Of Wealth Statue Folding BoxCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Flower Jewel BoxAntique Chinese Paper Mache Painted Decorated Lidded Oval Box Chinese Late 19th Or Early 20th Antique Jewelry Box Antique Oriental Cinnabar Lacquer Box - Very OrnateOld Decorated Wonderful Handwork Copper Carve Buddha & Totem Exorcise Pillar BoxCollectibles Old Decorated Handwork Copper Carving Buddha Inlay Beads Pillar BoxChina Handwork Miao Silver Rattan Church Pattern Jewel Box