Let's delve into the beautiful,
intricate work of Lacquerware
The term lacquer originates from the Portuguese word "lac", which is a resin that certain insects expel -Wikepedia
the Metropolitan Museum of ArtSimply put, to "lacquer" something means to give it a smooth, glossy finish. Today the word is loosely described for many techniques, and even when spray painting a vintage piece of shabby furniture with a shiny can of paint. But, let's look at the elaborate history behind the original Lacquerware techniques applied to wood and objects.
Important to note when looking at lacquer finishes:
Urushiol-based lacquers differ from most other lacquers in that they are slow-drying, water based, and dry by oxidation, rather than by evaporation. To set properly it requires humidity and warm temperature.
|a modern lacquer finish - nods to the antique varieties|
In China during the Shang Dynasty, the sophisticated techniques used in the lacquer process were developed and it became a highly artistic craft. Elaborate incised decorations were known to be used in a number of Chinese Lacquerware during the Han and Tang Dynastys. There was a great use of sheets of gold or silver detailed into many shapes depicted in nature - such as birds, animals, and flowers. These designed were applied on the surface of the lacquer body, after which new layers of lacquer were applied, dried, and then finely sanded, so the surface was polished to reveal the golden or silvery patterns beneath.
As I look at these exquisite designs, I giggle to myself and cannot help but think of the rough children's school projects of my youth decoupaging art and photography to preserve it under a thick shiny glue substance. But, this ancient technique was much more of a high art form and it was time-consuming and expensive, therefore lacquerware was highly coveted and pricey and often only seen in the most refined homes.
photograph via Wikipedia
Ming era lacquerware from 16th Century ChinaAfter the 10th century, various techniques developed such as the inlaying of different materials like mother-of-pearl in the Song Dynasty. The Chinese also worked with inlaid ivory, jade, coral and abalone. The Chinese methods spread to Korea, Japan, and Southeast and each country put their own spin on this beautiful art form. The Japanese made popular the gold and silver foil inlays of the Nara period. The lacquer substance is often colored by adding iron oxide and will turn either red or black, explaining the popularity of both of these colors in many historic lacquer pieces of furniture and objects in Asia.
As you can see this time consuming treatment has morphed and adapted to modern furnishings. The lacquer we often see on furniture today in the United States is a mere painted lacquer finish that is applied many times in layers, sometimes honed and sanded in between layers. However, depending upon the Provence of the piece it can have a variety of coats and layers and techniques, so it is always a good idea to ask many questions from the manufacturer.
I like the use of a shiny, sleek item in a room,
such as this coffee table added to the other textures
in the colorful space by
Anna Baskin Lattimore via Houzz.com
lacquered bedside table from chelsea textiles
modern nods to an ancient art form brings beauty and culture to our homes