Globalised lacquer

The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In mid-December I attended the Global Commodities conference at the University of Warwick, which examined the role of material culture in shaping world-wide connections in the early modern period. It was an extremely stimulating event that brought together social historians, economic historians and art historians.

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Ulrike Körber, who is connected to the José de Figueiredo Laboratory at the University of Évora, gave a fascinating lecture about the complex manufacturing and trade patterns of east Asian lacquer in the 16th and 17th century. She described how objects could be designed in one place, made in another, lacquered or relacquered in a third and used in a fourth. Globalisation is clearly not just a recent phenomenon.

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This reminded me of the unusual lacquer tables at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire, and  Ham House, Surrey, which have traditionally been called ‘Javanese’. They both date from the late 17th century and somehow reached England through the East India trade. The one at Ham was adapted to the needs of chair-sitting Europeans by being mounted on a barley-twist base, a telling example of the appropriation – at once practical and symbolic – of an Asian object into a European setting.

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

But we are not even sure whether these tables did indeed come from Java. There are some related tables in a few German collections, dating from around the same time and with similar distinctive pie-crust rims, but drum-shaped instead of rectangular.

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

I am hoping to correspond further with Ulrike and with some of the other conference participants to try to find out more about this rare category of lacquer objects – and of course I would very much welcome any suggestions here too.

6 Responses to “Globalised lacquer”

  1. Guy Tobin Says:

    Fascinating, as ever.

    I’m glad that there is an element of doubt around the Javan source of these tables as I would like to throw Korea into the mix as a possible origin. The designs are very reminiscent of the ‘Soban,’ a low tea table on (often) cabriole legs.

    I have a lacquer table top near identical to that on the drum base in the Residenz hence the memory being jogged by these images.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Guy, yours was exactly the kind of response I was hoping for :) I didn’t know about Korean soban tables (see for instance http://bit.ly/RuUbsh), thank you for alerting me.

    As you say, the cabriole-type legs (or ‘tiger legs’ – hojok-ban – as they appear to be called in Korean) on some soban tables are reminiscent of the shape of the legs on the Ham and Dyrham tables, and they also seem to have similar floor-level stretchers.

    Of course these traits could be shared by a number of regional traditional table designs, which I clearly need to investigate further, but this is an excellent lead.

  3. mary Says:

    The table is certainly beautiful; it is the chairs that have my full attention. Can you provide the information on these stunning Chairs. Thank you.
    Happy New Year.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mary, yes they are extraordinary, aren’t they, elegant and strange at the same time. I did a post about them a little while ago, which is here: http://bit.ly/S4Fwp0

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Kate Hay, a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, has just told me about a few comments on these tables which she has found in the V&A archives – the V&A used to look after Ham House. At various times various experts have suggested that the tables could have come from Japan (a similar table apparently features on a Japanese Namban lacquer screen in a museum in Lisbon), from the Ryūkyū islands or from Java.

    Also, a bill from furnituremaker George Nix and relating to Ham House has survived which contains an item dated 12 September 1730 ‘for a Black Japann’d frame for an Indian Tea Table & gilding & mending the table where it was broke £1.5.0.’, but it is not certain that this relates to this particular table, and of course the term ‘Indian’ was used for all kinds of Asian objects.

    Thanks very much indeed Kate – a few more pieces of the jigsaw :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 745 other followers

%d bloggers like this: