Carved lacquer, an important traditional Chinese art form, is the subject of “Cinnabar: The Chinese Art of Carved Lacquer,” an ongoing exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On view through Oct. 9 are 45 examples of the artistic tradition which showcase its development from the 14th century through the 19th century.
Chinese carved lacquer enjoyed its glory for hundreds of years, from the 10th century until the 19th century, although evidence points to its origins in the Tang Dynasty (618-906). A type of lacquerware made by carving intricate patterns, characters and figures into thick coats of lacquer, carved lacquer took very long periods of time to create and, as such, was considered luxurious. To vary the color of lacquer, which formed from the resin of a tree family in China, minerals were added to it. Cinnabar was used to give it a red appearance, while carbon made it turn black.
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Some of the Chinese carved lacquer items on display at the Met were given as gifts and bore figures that signify long life, such as cranes and peaches.