Exquisite lacquer works shed light on vibrant Delta region culture

Wu Huixin
China has been making lacquerware since Neolithic times, and the Liangzhu Museum is displaying some of the priceless artifacts.
Wu Huixin

China has been producing lacquerware since the Neolithic Period. Lacquered objects were smooth, glossy and resistant to heat, moisture and corrosion.

Now, lacquered artworks, including rarely seen national treasures, are on display at the Liangzhu Museum until May 5.

The first item in the exhibition is a bird-head-shaped artifact that was found at the Liangzhu Neolithic Site.

For over 5,000 years, people have resided in the area around present-day Liangzhu. The findings from Liangzhu demonstrate the existence of a vibrant prehistoric culture along the Yangtze River Delta region.

“I hope people will discover that this civilization created exquisite lacquer works in addition to the well-known Liangzhu jade products,” said Xu Tianjin, curator of the Liangzhu Museum. “Showing the lacquered artifacts is a new exploration to introduce the civilization to visitors.”

Liangzhu ancestors discovered that the sap of the plant we refer to as the lacquer tree could polish and preserve vessels. Saturated in liquid preservative, this treasure retains its original crimson color from 5 millennia ago.

Exquisite lacquer works shed light on vibrant Delta region culture
Ti Gong

The bird-head artifact unearthed at the Liangzhu Neolithic Site

China’s lacquerware culture originated in Zhejiang Province, and Liangzhu’s artifacts support this notion.

Additionally, the notion has been corroborated by a lacquered wooden bowl recovered at the Ningbo Hemudu site and a lacquered bow unearthed from the Kuahu Bridge in Hangzhou.

The lacquered painted screen from the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386–534) is another noteworthy artifact on display. It has been banned from being displayed overseas due to its rarity. This antique, on loan from the Shanxi Museum, will be on display until January 10.

The figures on the painting are recorded in the book “Records of the Grand Historian,” a monumental history of ancient China dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), and the “Biographies of Exemplary Women,” compiled by the Han Dynasty scholar Liu Xiang.

The entire screen features celebrated women such as the Han Dynasty Chinese scholar and poet Ban Jieyu, as well as the goddesses of the Xiang River in modern-day Hunan Province — Ehuang (Fairy Radiance) and Nuying (Maiden Bloom).

The screen showcases the artistic abilities from the Han Dynasty and the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Except for filling the blank of lacquered paintings in the Northern Wei, it is also considered the transition of painting genres between the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420–589) and the early Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907).

Exquisite lacquer works shed light on vibrant Delta region culture
Ti Gong

The lacquer screen on loan from the Shanxi Museum will be on display until January 10.

Lacquerware gained popularity throughout the Song Dynasty (960–1279) and eventually became a traditional craft. A few of the items on display were once necessities for everyday life.

A lacquered vessel must typically be covered in approximately 100 layers of lacquer, dried, smoothed and polished to achieve a thickness good enough for design carving.

A second coating is required to seal the vessel. Depending on its complexity, a single piece can take years to create.

Historical records show that Zhejiang was once the center for the creation of lacquered artwork. Authorities and members of royal families valued the beautiful lacquer goods produced and sold by the numerous shops in Hangzhou and Wenzhou.

The difference between the antiquities manufactured in the Song Dynasty and earlier dynasties is proof of the exceptional talents of the artists at that time, which significantly accelerated the development of the craft.

Later, Jiaxing, on the border of Zhejiang Province and Shanghai, replaced Wenzhou as the new industry hub during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). Lacquer objects from that time were prized antiquities that museums and private owners collected.

A black wooden box with floral engravings from the Yuan Dynasty, on loan from the Shanghai Museum, is also on display. This sparkling vase holds 800 years frozen in time.

The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) saw the refinement of new techniques as artisans started to incorporate gold and silver powder with lacquer to create patterns, figures and landscapes. Perhaps the best examples of the new abilities are those from that era.

Exquisite lacquer works shed light on vibrant Delta region culture
Ti Gong

The wooden box on loan from the Shanghai Museum

Continued and Gorgeous Lacquer Art Exhibition

Date: Through May 5, 9am-5pm (closed on Mondays)

Venue: Liangzhu Museum

Address: 1 Meilizhou Rd

Admission: Free


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