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 the Near East. 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 Chinese White Jade BoxAntique Chinese Cloisonné Enamel Lidded Box With A Inlaid Pale Jade Oval Plaque. Fine 19thc Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Scholar Boy Scenic Lidded Seal Box CaseLarge Estate Lot Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Scenic Seal Box Meiping VaseSuperb Large Late 19th Century Chinese Silver Table Box By Wang Hing.Fine1900 Chinese Guangxu Cinnabar Lacquer Imperial Five Claw Dragon Meiping VaseAntique 19thc. Chinese Card Case Box Intricately Carved People, Temples PagodasV-beautiful Chinese 19thc Porcelain Famille Rose Vase Oriental AntiquesSuperbly Carved Signed Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Dragon Phoenix Figural Seal BoxLarge Chinese Qing Dynasty White - Pale Celadon Jade Pendant Plaque Cinnabar BoxVery Fine Signed Chinese Cinnabar & Green Lacquer Qilin W Boy Covered Jar BoxOld Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Carved Jewelry Box/cosmetic Jar Dragon Qing DynastyAntique Chinese Flambe Miniature Vase Antique Chinese Mother Of Pearl Decorated Wooden BoxSuperb Large Chinese Pumpkin Form Shape Antique / Vintage Cloisonne Box2x Antique Chinese Yuan Or Ming Dynasty Dehua Type BoxesChinese Antique Old Carved Round Red Tick Cinnabar Covered Box Asian China Early 20th Century Chinese Silver Enamel Snuff Pill Box Bird Plum Blossom MkChinese Antique Old Carved Round Red Tick Cinnabar Covered Box Asian ChinaAntique Chinese Red Lacquer Late Qing Carved Gilt Handle Brass Large 12 Inch Box2 Antique Chinese Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Lacquer Bowls Old!Chinese Engraved Paktong Erotic Couples Box 19th CenturyChinese Rose Medallion Porcelain Teapot And Box19# Old Rare Antique Chinese Bone Hand Carved Box Dragon Ivory ColoredV-fine Chinese 19th Century Antiques Enamel Cloissone Oriental BoxRare Tienstin Yeching Sterling Silver Chinese Cigarette Case C.early 1900s 8.3ozAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Spinach Jade Carnelian Foo Dog Covered BoxAntique Chinese Double Gourd Ge Ware VaseV-impressive Rare Chinese 19thc Porcelain Famille Rose Bowl Oriental AntiquesAntique Chinese Ridged Meiping VaseChinese Cloisonne Champelve Enamel Snuff Pill Cigarette Trinket Box Gold Antique Chinese Southern Song Or Yuan Dynasty Qingbai Box Modelled As A Granary17th-19th Chinese Famille-rose Dragon Box And Cover Good Heavy 20th C Chinese Cloisonne Box - Scholar's Box, Dragon MotifChinese Round Lidded Porcelain Box Transitional Or Early Qing B&w AntiqueEarly 20c Chinese Foochow Foo Chow Fuzhou Fujian Lacquer Scholar Box MarkedAntique Chinese Rosewood Box MirrorAntique Chinese Brass & Lacquered Wood Chest W/ Hand Carved Jade MaidensAuthentic Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Mythological Dragon Form BoxVery Rare Antique Chinese Qianlong Marked Lacquerwork Carved BoxAntique 1920's Chinese Cloisonne Box W/enameled & Carved Jade MedallionAntique Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Lidded Box Figures In The Garden Late 1800'sAntique Chinese Canton Enamel Copper Box Family Playing PictureLucky Chinese Old Bone Handmade Carved Elephant Statue Snuff Jewel Box OrnamentA Good Antique Chinese Blue & White Porcelain Seal Wax Box Ca 1900Antique Chinese Hand Carved Scenic Cinnabar BoxFine Antique Chinese Lacquered Box Tea Caddy Dragon Serpent Horn Bone Vtg Chinese Oriental Inlaid Ornate Wood Jewelry BoxChinese Old Bone Collection Handmade Carved Tortoise Statue Jewel Snuff BoxChinese Pewter & Enamel Tobacco Jar With Agate Dog Finial Sold By Yamanaka JapanFine Antique Cinnabar Lacquer Box Carved On Both Sides 18th/19th Century --- Nr Antique Chinese Cloisonne Box 19th Century / Republic Period Circa 1900Vintage Chinese Cinnabar Lacquer Carved Circular Pot & Cover 11cm Dia DragonAntique Chinese Signed Paktong & Copper Ink Box With Boy & Toy 19th Century - NrAntique Old Chinese Rosewood Carved Cosmetic Jar Inkpad Box Figures Pine Bamboo Vtg Round Enameled Brass Blue Cloisonne Chinese Box With Lid ■ Pink Rose FlowerGood 20th C Chinese Cloisonne Box - Scholar's BoxAntique Chinese Chinoiserie Black & Gold Small Tea Caddy BoxSuperb Chinese Solid Silver Cigarette Case Figures 19thc MarkedDelicate Chinese Boxwood Carved Thousand-hand Bodhisattva Folding Box