Asian Lacquerware (Characteristics, Origin, Process & History)


Art collectors from all over the globe are familiar with Asian lacquer ware, which is a product of some of the most skilled artisan skills available anywhere in the world. The process of applying lacquer to wooden things in order to give them a good gloss and shine ultimately results in the creation of lacquer ware. Although the craft was developed in both China and Japan, Japanese craftsmen are generally credited with taking Chinese lacquer techniques and developing them into the highly regarded art form that lacquer ware creation has become today. This is despite the fact that the craft was developed in both countries simultaneously.

The History of Lacquer Ware

There is evidence to suggest that the process of lacquering things originated more than 4000 years ago. At that time, it was used to cover everyday goods such as furniture as well as personal items such as earrings and combs. This particular kind of lacquering was more practical in nature since the lacquer imparted solidity and smoothness to the things that were being lacquered. However, it was a significant technique; in fact, it was significant enough for lacquer merchants to organise themselves into a guild known as Urushi-he in order to assist enhance their methods.

At the same time, Chinese artists were improving lacquering processes along more artistic lines. Additionally, they were adding colour to their lacquer and used lacquer to build objects that were more visually beautiful. Japanese artisans not only adopted Chinese lacquering methods into their works, but also enhanced and refined them into a genuine art form once they were introduced to Japan in the 5th and 6th centuries. These skills were brought to Japan by Chinese merchants.

The Makie method was one enhancement that the Japanese brought to the table (gold and silver lacquer finishes). Makie was an extremely high-quality art form that was superior to any other creative skills that the Chinese had established up to that point in time. Because most things were still made of wood and not ceramic (glaze had not yet been developed), makie techniques became an extremely popular method of adding both beauty and sturdiness to common household objects such as tables and utensils. This was accomplished through the use of lacquer, which was applied to the surface of the object. The upper class placed a particularly high premium on possessions that had Makie finishing. As a result, goods made of lacquer ware rapidly became much more than ordinary items found in households. They eventually developed into very complex works of art and emblems of social rank.

The Process of Creating Lacquer ware

The Rhus Veniciflua tree, often known as the Varnish Tree, is the source of lacquer, which is extracted from the tree’s sap. However, despite its widespread distribution in China and Japan, this tree is really native to Central Asia. It is related to the cashew tree, the mango tree, and the pistachio tree since it is a member of the same family, the Anacardiaceae.

In general, in Japan, five to ten horizontal incisions are made in the tree’s trunk parallel to one another in order to harvest lacquer from the Varnish Tree. Although the method for harvesting lacquer from the Varnish Tree differs depending on where in Asia you are, it is quite straightforward. The incisions are made in the tree, and when the sap pours out, it is scraped off and collected.

The sap of the lacquer tree is referred to as crude lacquer after it has been processed to eliminate contaminants. On almost all lacquerware, a layer of crude lacquer is applied first as a primer. It is heated to a temperature between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius in order to improve the quality of the crude lacquer. After then, people refer to it as Kurome lacquer. When crude lacquer is heated to a temperature of sixty degrees Celsius, a different kind of lacquer may be produced. This lacquer, known as hosezu lacquer, does not dry out or become brittle. When the drying process has to be sped up or slowed down, Hosezu lacquer is added to Kurome lacquer as a mixing agent. The amount of time it takes for the lacquer to cure might vary depending on factors such as temperature and relative humidity.

After that, colour may be added to the lacquer by combining oil or colour pigments, and then it can be used as a top coat, giving the item a durable and glossy sheen. Afterwards, colour can be added to the lacquer by mixing oil or colour pigments. If no additional colour is applied, the item will have the natural condition of lacquer, which is a translucent, deep brown tint.

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