Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Lacquer: From China to Mexico

[Chrysanthemum-shaped dish with inscribed poem by the Qianlong emperor. Chinese, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 1774. MFA, Boston.] 

I don't know about you, but whenever lacquer is mentioned, my mind usually drifts to Asia -- particularly China or Japan. Chinese lacquer works are revered in the design world, and I expect the MFA's upcoming show, Chinese Lacquer 1200–1800 (November 16, 2012 - September 8, 2013), with tactile objects ranging from furniture to birdcages, will be long on inspiration.

What I'm just getting better acquainted with is Mexican lacquer.

[Detail view: José Manuel de la Cerda (Zerda) (attributed (Mexico, Pátzcuaro, active 18th century) Tray (batea), circa 1760. Wood and painted lacquer, Height: 4 7/8 in. (12.38 cm); Diameter: 34 1/2 in. (87.63 cm). Purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund (M.2010.6) Latin American Art Department, LACMA. Full view below.]

According to LACMA, holder of some exquisite examples, Mexican lacquer (a 2,000-year-old indigenous craft) was historically made with oils from insects and plants, along with minerals. Japanese lacquer, in contrast, was completely plant-based. Today Kathryn Santner posted on Unframed two pieces, including this tray attributed to 18th century Mexico's most renown lacquer artist, José Manuel de la Cerda, that show a Spanish colonial influence. And the strong impact of chinoiserie, too. As you can see the lustrous black background sets off gold-edged weeping willow trees and what appear to be little pagoda-roofed structures. These designs mingle with a bullfighter and other European figures -- two representing Arachne and Athena. In the words of William Poundstone, it's a "Mexican mash-up."

[Gourd bowl (jícara) Olinalá, Guerrero. Collected by Katharine D. Jenkins, 1966.] 

Meandering over to Berkeley, the Pheobe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology has a great collection of  antique and vintage 20th-century folk pieces. This bowl is from Olinalá, Guerrero, where lacquerware production endured.

[Gourd in the form of a pear (bule en forma de pera) Olinalá, Guerrero Collected by Phoebe A. Hearst, before 1909.]

[Box (caja), rayado technique, Olinalá, Guerrero Collected by Katharine D. Jenkins, 1968.]

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