VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Lacquer table
FE.6-1973
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This table is arguably the most important piece of Chinese lacquer furniture in the collection of the Victoria and Albert. This object is unique because no other carved lacquer furniture of this size from the early 15th century has survived - not even in the Palace Museum in Beijing. The workmanship is superb and the dragons, phoenixes and flowers are skilfully carved. There is no similar object extant probably because it was too labour-intensive even for the court to mass-produce. Lacquer is the sap of a tree (rhus verniciflua) that grows in the Far East. It would have been tapped, filtered and mixed with cinnabar to produce a red colour. One coat of lacquer would have been applied to the wooden core of the table, and another coat would have been added once the previous coat had dried completely. Once a sufficient thickness was achieved the craftsman could start carving. In this case, it is reckoned that a hundred coats had been built up in order to carve the dense design of dragons, phoenixes and flowers. The drying process could not be hastened. Allowing one day for one coat to dry, which is the minimum, the drying process alone would have taken at least one hundred days.

History of the Object
It was made during the reign of the Xuande emperor (reigned 1425-1436), in a workshop in Beijing under direct imperial control.

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Type
Decorative Art 
Materials
Wood, lacquer 
Measurements
Width 119.5cm Height 79.2cm  
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
China; Beijing 
Geography
China 
Time period
AD 15th century ~ AD 15th century 
Creation date
15th Century; 1425-1436 
Function
 
Acquisition
Purchased with an anonymous and most generous donation. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Credit line
© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

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