Two-door cabinet

South China, probably Guangzhou
Late 17th century
Lacquered exotic wood decorated with mother-of-pearl and painted; gilded copper fittings
59 x 53 x 34,5 cm

This two-door cabinet, made in China for export in the late seventeenth century, is made of exotic wood lacquered in black and decorated with mother-of-pearl inlays; utilising abalone shell (Haliotis spp.) known in China as 鮑魚 bàoyú, with its highly iridescent, changeable colours (strong blue, turquoise, lavender and pink), and also pearl oyster shell (probably from Pinctada maxima) for the larger inlays. Rectangular in shape, it rests on a low waved socle. While the front of the cabinet is covered with a large hunting scene with Europeans on horseback armed with long lances, a bow and a matchlock, the sides feature rocky landscapes with flowers, birds and insects and a phoenix and a dragon hovering above the trees on the top. The gilded copper fittings are finely chased with floral motifs over a punched fish-row ground. There are two pairs of hinges on the front, bracket fittings on the outer corners, a large escutcheon with phoenixes, and the internal drawer pulls. The cabinet opens up to reveal ten drawers. The fronts are lacquered in black and decorated in gold and abalone inlays with flowering branches; the interior sides of the doors are decorated with courting scenes probably taken from Chinese tales. Following an old type of two-door cabinet, known in China as 医药箱 yīyàoxiāng, literally "apothecary chest", characterised by the presence of differently sized interior drawers, having two or only one door, and used to store all types of objects, the present cabinet was made for export in accordance with European taste. Cabinets such as this were highly sought after in late seventeenth-century Europe. Chinese lacquerware production for export was based mainly around Guangzhou (Canton). Some examples featured carved or engraved lacquered decoration, while others included oil paint decoration. Their popularity led to them being copied in Europe in the form of cabinets with oriental decoration using varnish and pigments in imitation of Asian lacquer, which in English is known as japanning and in Portuguese as acharoado, from charão, which comes from the Chinese word 漆要 qīyào or “painted lacquer”.

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