The techniques used to create Chinese lacquer, seen in works from the 13th through 20th centuries, are awe-inspiring and invite closer examination. Some pieces are coated with more than 100 layers of lacquer, then carved to reveal a detailed relief. Meticulous applications of mother-of-pearl produce sprawling scenes with the scope of landscape paintings. Objects in these and other styles exemplify the aesthetics of Confucian scholars, who displayed this type of art in their studies.
Chinese lacquers feature historical figures, scholars, flower motifs and a variety of auspicious symbols. A round red Yuan-dynasty tray, for example, is elaborately decorated with peacocks flying through peony blossoms, an emblem of wealth and nobility. On another tray, a little boy depicted in mother-of-pearl inlay emerges from a lotus blossom, symbolizing the wish for many sons.
Get to know the rich history of this artistic tradition through a selection of compelling and distinctive pieces.