Magic of urushi



A large Negoro lacquered wood hanging ewer for hot water
A tortoiseshell box decorated in lacquer with sea animals and shells
Urushi lacquer on panel with bats and a full moon
A small lacquered letterbox decorated with maple leaves, 17th century
Design by Kamisaka Sekka Lacquer by Kamisaka Yukichi
A pair of lacquered sake vessel with urushi-e design of cranes and bamboo
A rare letter box (fubako) decorated with playing cards, 17th century
Four cases inrō with hawks, 19th century
Negoro lacquer tray with a lobed motif on the back
Sweet-box with katami-gawari decoration
Wooden basin with ear-shaped handles, 17th century
Rectangular writing box, 17th century
Lacquer panel with a nocturne landscape, a creek and fireflies
Sake bottle decorated in urushi-e with cranes and bamboo, 15th century
Writing box decorated with a peacock, 19th century
A negoro lacquer angled corners tray, 19th century
Lacquered panel with a bush of roses
Writing box in Ritsuo's style (Ogawa Haritsu), 17th-18th century
Writing box lacquered in nashi-ji with golden, copper and lead inserts
Lacquered furniture decorated with scene from Genji Monogatari
Lacquered tray decorated with cherry blossom, late 19th century
Lacquered box with lead and mother of pearl inserts
Writing box with dragon flying in the clouds



Are you looking for Antique Japanese lacquer?

The earliest known antique Japanese lacquers date back to 7,000 b.C., although it isn't yet clear whether these relics originated in China or in Japan. The commonly-accepted theory maintains that, from China, lacquer technology was introduced to Korea and from there to Japan. It is believed that lacquer was used during antiquity in Japan as well, but that the systematic application process was in fact developed by the Chinese. Nevertheless, following the discovery in Japan of lacquerware dating from the Jomon period, which runs from about 10,000 to 300 b.C., alternative theories emerged suggesting the technology may have also been developed independently in Japan.

In Europe, the first antique Japanese lacquers arrived at the start of the 17th century, imported by the Portuguese and the Dutch. They were mostly musical instruments and furniture, which instantly became fashionable due to their glossy coatings and refined decorations, far superiors in quality to their European counterparts.

The most valuable antique Japanese lacquers are the ones known as urushi, crafted with a technique which was already employed in Japan in prehistoric times, around 5,000 b.C. (when a number of lacquered items such as combs and trays where found in the Shimahama Tomb in Fukui Prefecture), but which only really flourished under influences from the mainland starting in the 6th century a.D. By the 9th century, however, the style had become unmistakably Japanese, and had come to include several new local techniques.

Urushi is the sap extracted from the eponymous tree, which, due to its adhesive properties, had initially been utilized in the manufacturing of hunting and military weapons. In time other features were discovered, revealing how all objects treated with the resin became not only resistant, but also sturdier and waterproof. Therefore urushi stopped being used only as a protection or decorative coating for existing objects such as chairs or suits of armor, but also to manufacture new objects, like containers and statues, with a support of different materials like wood or clay.

Since the 8th century, skilled master craftsmen have been producing exquisite works with these fabulous antique Japanese lacquers, introducing, over the centuries, many innovative and highly original techniques. In Japan, the use of lacquer wasn't limited to home furnishings and ornaments (oku-dōgu) or to ceremonial items (omote-dōgu), but extended also to religious objects and military equipment.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868) this art reached its maximum expressions, with the lacquering of a vast range of materials (precious metals in leaf or powder, white and iridescent mother of pearl, ivory, turtle, ceramic, even  eggshells and the skin of certain fish), which would be coated, protected and decorated with urushi.




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