Chinese Polychrome Painted and Parcel Gilt Coromandel Black Lacquer Cabinet on a Continental Giltwood Stand
The cabinet, late 17th century; the stand, circa 1700
The rectangular cabinet with two doors decorated allover with landscapes and birds amidst blossoming foliage, opening to a fitted interior of doors and drawers, centered at the bottom by a removable cabinet with doors opening to shelves, drawers and two concealed drawers at the back, the sides with handles, raised on a foliate carved stand centered by a bust in relief flanked by winged figures continuing to leaf carved square tapering legs. Height 66 1/2 inches 1.68 m), width 39 inches (99.0), depth 23 1/4 inches (59 cm).
Christie's, New York, October 26, 1985, lot 125
The name Coromandel is taken from an area on the east coast of India between the Godavari River and Nagapattinam that during the late 17th and the 18th centuries was occupied by a number of European trading posts. This form of cut and colored lacquer was actually the product of an area in South China called Wenzhou (Zhejiang province) where it was called kuan cai (literally 'incised colors'). It was much sought after by Dutch and French traders, and also the English, being known to them as bantam work or cutt-work. The actual technique appears to date from the 16th century, its application being described in a book called Xui Shi Lu, or Notes on the Lacquer Industry and Lacquerware dating from the 16th century. Written by Huang Chen, a well-known lacquer artist (1557-1572), it was adapted in 1625 by Yang Ming. Its main use was for screens, large screens of twelve panels being recorded as early as the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126), and remaining as major pieces of household furniture through the 19th century. They were commonly decorated with terrace and riverside scenes, fantastic mythological beasts and birds amidst exotic flowers and trees. Very rarely did these scenes contain European figures; the less elaborately decorated reverse-sides being inscribed with poems of dedication.
The present Coromadel lacquer cabinet is of Chinese manufacture: the secondary wood is a softwood and some of the drawer bottoms have Chinese characters indicating their location in the cabinet. In China, these cabinets would have stood on the floor or on a small stand; see Adam Bowett, 'Lacquer, Japanning and other finishes', English Furniture 1660-1714, 2002, pp. 144-169. Highly desirable and extremely expensive in Europe, lacquer cabinets, once shipped from Asia, were often raised on higher stands, often gilded or silvered, made to emphasize their rarity and importance.Bowett, ibid., p. 150, pl. 5:9 illustrates a cabinet from Mallett and Son (Antiques) Ltd. with an identical arrangement of drawers and includes the small internal cabinet with doors opening to drawers, again with the same configuration. The giltwood stand appears to be of Continental design, possibly French.
C The Noel and Harriette Levine Collection
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