A rare Chinese Han period lacquer vessel with dragon motifs

A rare Chinese Han period lacquer vessel with dragon motifs

This rare Chinese vessel is raised on a tall, slightly flaring foot and uniformly coated in reddish-brown lacquer. It was primarily used as a wine container. The shoulder of the vessel features gracefully flowing lines and dragons resting with their tongues protruding. The positioning of the dragon heads captures the viewer’s attention, directing it to the symmetrical triangular patterns encircling the neck. Both the body and the foot are adorned with bands of geometric decorations.
It’s worth mentioning that the use of lacquerware in China has a long history traceable back to the Neolithic period. Lacquerware was adopted as a highly prized material during the late Warring States period (475-221 BC) and the subsequent Han period (206 BC – 220 AD). A significant change in taste led to its widespread adoption in palaces and aristocratic households. Its increasing popularity also played a role in the swift decline of bronze by the end of the Han dynasty.
Manufacturing any utensil requires applying multiple thin layers of lacquer that are sequentially applied to the wooden surface to achieve sufficient thickness. Each layer must be thoroughly dried before the next is added. A passage from Han Kuan’s (桓寬) Yan Tie Lun (鹽鐵論) (“Discourses on Salt and Iron”), penned around 80 BC, notes that the cost of one lacquered cup equaled that of ten bronze counterparts. Furthermore, a significant workforce was required: a hundred artisans for a cup and ten thousand for a screen.

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