This online gallery highlights an exhibition of Chinese lacquer that was on display from November 2012 - September 2013. This exhibition illustrated the extraordinary technical and aesthetic achievements of lacquer craftsmen during the height of fine lacquer production.
This online gallery is based on an exhibition of Chinese lacquer on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from November 16th, 2012 to September 8th, 2013. The exhibition explored how objects made in this uniquely Asian material were used and perceived by those who valued them. The exhibition illustrated the extraordinary technical and aesthetic achievements of lacquer craftsmen during the height of fine lacquer production.
Lacquer is the opaque sap from the Varnish Tree (toxicodendron vernicifluum). In China lacquer was a luxury material, often considered on par with gold and silver. Serving a practical purpose as well as a decorative purpose, it was used to make everyday utensils, gift boxes, scholars’ objects, and furniture not only for the Imperial court but also for the literati and the wealthy elite. Lacquer wares, requiring great skill and patience to produce, have been appreciated for their diversity of forms, techniques, and inscriptions. The exhibition showed a selection of the MFA’s lacquer holdings, many of which came to the museum as part of a large gift from trustee William Sturgis Bigelow in 1911, displayed here for the first time alongside objects from important local collections.
Grade Levels: this gallery can be adapted for students in grades 6-12.
In exploring this lesson, students will:
- Discover the value placed on lacquer objects in Chinese culture
- Learn about the basics of the application and usage of lacquer materials
- Explore the significance of lacquer in the trade between China and Japan
This discovery will require students to:
- Look closely at the art
- Examine the objects with prior scientific knowledge in mind
- Compare and contrast details in the objects
- Generate hypotheses based on observations and prior knowledge
Using this resource:
- Art teachers and students will learn about the value placed upon Chinese lacquer objects based on the iconography and uses of the objects.
- Science teachers and students will learn how Chinese lacquer is applied, its difference from other types of resin, and its structural purposes.
- World History teachers and students will have the opportunity to examine lacquer culturally significant to Imperial China, the literati class, and the trade between China and Japan.
- Chinese Language teachers and students will have the opportunity to describe objects and imagery of the culture they are studying.
For sample and related classroom activities, please download the PDFs available under Related Resources.
The objects in this tour are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into Chinese lacquer.