A mid 19th century Chinese coromandel double-sided eight fold screen with fine incised polychrome decoration on both sides all on a black ground, one side decorated with an elaborate palace scene, with dancers, horsemen, musicians and warriors set amongst court architecture, the borders with landscape vignettes and floral decoration. The reverse with domestic courtly scenes of children playing with spinning tops, kites and balls in magnificent gardens, the borders with woven baskets.
Coromandel was the term given in the 17th century to the Chinese trade of incised lacquer, in which the pictorial elements of the lacquered surface are defined by the different depths to which the lacquer has been cut revealing the ground coating which is then coloured. In China it is known as ‘kuan cai’ which means ‘cut out and coloured lacquer’.
Coromandel was first recorded in a document in Xiu Shi Lu; a 16th century book about the lacquer industry. The technique was used on large screens, usually consisting of twelve panels. The production was concentrated in the Southern region of China, close to the sea ports, namely in the provinces of Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui. Coromandel itself is a misnomer because the lacquer did not originate from the Coromandel Coast of East India but from the Chinese coastal provinces surrounding Canton. The explanation for this term is that much of the British shipping sailed from the East India Trading Company's ports in India, directly to Britain, rather than from China, the lacquer being christened 'Coromandel' from its port of landing rather than from its port of origin. ‘Kuancai’ or Coromandel lacquer was originally known in Britain as Bantam lacquer. The name comes from the fact that Bantam was an important trading post of the English East Indies Company in Java, when the screens started to be imported to this country.
Folding screens were important elements of Chinese and Japanese households and were used for protection, concealment or as partitions. Some of the Coromandel lacquer screens have surviving inscriptions which tell us that they were usually made as birthday presents for distinguished individuals, or as gifts to mark the retirement or promotion of high-ranking officials.
The screens usually have a central portion surrounded by a large border. The types of decoration used in the central portion can be of several types and divided into palace scenes, scenes from the world of immortals, representations of flora and fauna, panoramic views and Chinese figures in landscapes.
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