Lovely Lacquer


I recently received three Japanese lacquer bowls from my wonderful Auntie so lacquer is our topic today. For this post I am going to drink red moscato because after the pear infused sake incident I wanted a beverage I know I like. My glass is full so away we go!

Lacquer is a versatile, waterproof resin used on a variety of media. My favorite lacquered items are inro. Traditional men's kimono don't have pockets so they needed a convenient way to carry things like money.

Inro are worn over the obi sash around the waist. They were usually flask shaped with 2 to 5 compartments to separate the items.

Similar to handbags today inro became a way to show personality and social status. Inro is usually decorated with silver, gold and mother of pearl and varies from restrained to elaborate. Sometimes there is a literary or historical theme too.


Here are some beauties from the  MFA Boston


Four-case inro with chrysanthemum design

Japanese Edo period mid-19th century
Kakusensai (Japanese)

Barely visible black lacquer ground; decoration in gold, silver, aokin and red-tinted togidashi-e; compartments and risers gold nashiji; shoulders and rims gold fundame

8.7 x 5.2 x 1.9 cm (3 7/16 x 2 1/16 x 3/4 in.)

Accession Number 11.10070




Five-case inro with hanami design

Japanese, Edo period Late 18th–early 19th century, Yamada School

Black lacquer ground covered by medium-density gold nashiji; decoration in gold, aokin, silver and black takamaki-e compartments and risers gold nashiji; shoulders and rims gold fundame 

8.4 x 5.6 x 2.2 cm (3 5/16 x 2 3/16 x 7/8 in.)

Accession Number 11.9946



 Sheath inro with design of dragon and clouds

Japanese Edo periodLate 17th–early 18th centuryKoma School (Japanese)

Black lacquer with dense gold kinpun forming a gold ground; decoration in gold and silver takamaki-e with extensive gold kirikane and encrustation of ivory; inner part gold and aokin hiramaki-e; compartments and risers gold nashiji; shoulders and rims gold fundame 
 7.8 x 4.4 x 2.4 cm (3 1/16 x 1 3/4 x 15/16 in.)

Accession Number 11.9881a-b



Ogawa Haritsu (Japanese, 1663–1747) Two-case inro with design of toys

Japanese Edo period mid-late 18th century

Black lacquer ground; decoration in gold, black and red takamaki-e with encrustation of pottery; compartments and risers black lacquer; shoulders and rims gold fundame  

6.3 x 5.8 x 2.2 cm (2 1/2 x 2 5/16 x 7/8 in.)

Accession Number 11.9918



This inro is my favorite of the bunch ... what the f is going on here? The description says the decorations are toys but I think those toys would give me nightmares!  







Furniture, cosmetics  boxes, trays and ornamental plaques are other popular lacquer items.

Check these out!


Lacquer shelves with design of flowers of the four seasons in maki-e

Japanese Meiji era about 1910

Wood, decorated in gold, silver and colored takamaki-e (high-relief), hiramaki-e (low-relief) and togidashi-e (flat-polished) lacquering

Overall: 63.5 x 80 x 36.8 cm (25 x 31 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.) 121.9 x 121.9 x 61 cm (48 x 48 x 24 in.)

Accession Number  2006.1177




Tray with decoration of the hundred monkeys

Japanese  Meiji era second half of 19th century

Wood; maki-e lacquer decoration and ivory (Elephas maximus), tortoise shell (Eretmochelys imbricate), and mother of pearl (Pinctada radiata) inlay
Overall: 3 x 60.3 x 41.7 cm (1 3/16 x 23 3/4 x 16 7/16 in.)

Accession Number 11.5828



Lacquer Album Cover

Japanese Meiji era, red lacquer  27 x 36 x 5 cm (10 5/8 x 14 3/16 x 1 15/16 in.)

 Sharf No.: FASREL6 Accession Number 2004.282.51


Lacquer was of course not limited to Japan. China, Korea, France and England are just a few other countries that produced beautiful lacquerware. Here are a few examples from the MFA Boston collection.  




Cabinet on Stand

English about 1680–90

Cabinet: panels of late 17th-century Chinese lacquer; oak and spruce carcass; engraved gilt brass-mounts Stand: maple and pine, carved and gilt

Stand: 78.8 x 136.9 x 58.6 cm (31 x 53 7/8 x 23 1/16 in.) Cabinet : 91.4 x 112.2 x 47.8 cm (36 x 44 3/16 x 18 13/16 in.)

Accession Number 65.2528a-b




Folding fan "Mandarin" fan
Chinese for export Qing Dynasty 1850–60

Painted paper; ivory; silk; lacquer 28cm (11in.) Other (open maximum): 50cm (19 11/16in.)

Accession Number 1976.416





Twelve panel Coromandel lacquer screen

Chinese Qing dynasty, Kangxi period about 1700

Lacquer on wood  244 x 46 cm (96 1/16 x 18 1/8 in.); Legacy dimension: Ea. panel--H: 244.0 cm; W: 46.0 cm

Accession Number1975.333



This Korean lacquer box is a stunner! The delicate, rhythmic mother of pearl floral design is simply amazing.


Korean Lacquer box with inlaid mother-of-pearl and metal fittings
Joseon dynasty  17th–18th century

10.7 x 33.8 x 33.8 cm (4 3/16 x 13 5/16 x 13 5/16 in.)

Accession Number 19.652a-b


These pieces are all examples of surface decoration. Lacquer can also be put on in multiple layers with a design carved through the layers. Carved lacquer is unique to China and is usually very elaborate. 

Lacquer libation cup  

Chinese Ming dynasty 16th century

Lacquer and Silver H. 5 x W. 6.5 cm (1 15/16 x 2 9/16 in.), L. (over handle) 12 cm (4 3/4 in.)

Accession Number 1986.642


Lacquer Circular box

Chinese  Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1736–95

Height x diameter: 14.7 x 39.6 cm (5 13/16 x 15 9/16 in.)

Accession Number  41.267b-c



Hat box

Chinese Qing dynasty 19th century

Papier-mâché, lacquered 27.9 x 45.1 x 37.5 cm (11 x 17 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.)

Accession Number RES.55.49.1


So that is a very brief exploration of lacquer and its many forms. I hope you appreciate the versatile, beautiful, functional medium of lacquer. A search of the Tokyo National Museum and MFA Boston will provide many fabulous pieces of lacquer.  Cheers!

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