Chicago Antiques Guide

The Chicago Antiques Guide Blog

Cinnabar Vase

Posted Tuesday, July 04 by Brian

Cinnabar Vase.jpg Wondering if you have any
information regarding
this piece...
We bought it in a small furniture/Antique
store in Hawaii 21 yrs ago.
It has metal on inside.
Thank you for any info you
might be able to provide...

Your vase is most likely made of cinnabar. Cinnabar is a red pigmented lacquer. The lacquer is painted onto a base in very thin coats and built up through many (50 or more) layers. The best pieces can have hundreds of layers and multiple colors in different layers. The lacquer is then carved to create the design or scene. The metal inside is usually brass, especially on newer pieces. Yours may have been new (or relatively new) when you purchased it.

Carving through the very hard lacquer was very time consuming. So several ways of getting the same or similar affect have evolved through the years. The Chinese began carving cinnabar in about the 8th Century. In the 14th Century the Japanese began a new type of lacquerware by carving the design into a piece of wood first, and then adding the lacquer to the carved design. The wood was much easier to carve and reduced the time required to create a piece of what the Japanese called Kamakura bori, or "Kamakura carving". To read a more complete version visit the web site of the Kyoto National Museum

In recent years, pieces have been molded out of plastic or resin to simulate carved cinnabar. To tell the difference between molded plastic or resin and carved cinnabar, you may need to look at the piece with a magnifying glass. On cinnabar, look at place where the carving is shallow and at a very gradual angle. You should be able to see the layered affect. On molded plastic, you may see bubbles that have "popped" at almost any place on the piece. True cinnabar should not have bubbles.

2 Comments | Leave a comment


I also have this very same vase and would appreciate any information that could be passed on.

Chinese red laquer cinnabar flower and leaf pattern, replica of Quing Dynasty...?

Basically I put everything I know into the article.

Leave a comment

Weblog Archives