2 April 2011

Mystery Object No. 3 - the Solution

This week we asked you where this object was made:

Corner cupboard, 1720-1760 (c) Geffrye Museum, London
Lose ten points if you said Japan (sorry). Congratulations to those who answered with European countries!
Despite its oriental appearance, our mystery object was actually made in Europe sometime between 1720 and 1760. Experts can't tell exactly where because these sorts of objects were so popular throughout the continent.
Oriental lacquer objects were first imported into Europe in the late 1500s, along with spices, silks and porcelain. Such goods were only imported into Britain in large quantities after the formation of the East India Company in 1600.
As demand for oriental lacquer objects outstripped supply, European craftsmen began to experiment with their own materials to imitate the style, producing a technique known as ‘japanning’. This is a finish achieved by applying several layers of varnishes and glazes.
Attempts at japanning were first made in England in the early 1600s, but the boom in popularity of oriental and japanned objects started during the reign of Charles II (1660-1685). The style was applied to all sorts of things, from tea trays to coaches. At the height of its popularity, japanned ware was present in every middle-class home.
The scenes picked out in gold leaf and bronze paint on our cupboard are not an accurate imitation of the pictures on Asian lacquer, but a fanciful European version of them. The cupboard was originally blue, but the layers of varnish have discoloured over time. The original gold leaf picking out figures, foliage and decoration, however, is still largely intact.
Even though this object itself did not travel from Asia, it’s a good example of how techniques and practices can travel across the globe.
See the real thing in the Geffrye Museum’s 1745 parlour.

1745 parlour (c) Geffrye Museum, London
See here for more information from the Geffrye's collections online.

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