Lacquer works saw its peak time again during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. This period saw lacquer works changed into pure artworks and their production techniques attained the highest level of perfection, with a variety of new techniques developed including what was known to experts as “lacquer carving”.
“Lacquer carving” involves an elaborate process of doing human figures and pictures on lacquer coating comprising several dozen to well over 100 layers, which have a combined thickness of more than ten millimeters. During the Yuan Dynasty, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces had the best lacquer work artists in the country, among whom the most prominent were Zhang Cheng and Yang Mao in Jiaxing, Zhejiang. The Palace Museum has in its collection a lacquered plate with a jasmine flower design, the inscriptions on it reading “made by Zhang Cheng”. A lacquered vase made by Yang Mao, which has carved designs on it, is also found in the collection.
Many lacquer works production centers were developed during the Ming Dynasty, including Zhejiang, Yunnan for carved lacquer works, Yangzhou for lacquer works inlaid with decorative pieces, Suzhou for gilded lacquer works, and Shanxi for gilded lacquered furniture. What merits special mention is Huang Dacheng, a master lacquer works artist in Xin’an, Anhui Province, who lived during the reign of Emperor QianLong of the Qing Dynasty. Basing himself on past experiences and experiences of his own, he authored ancient China’s only monograph on lacquer works production. The book has 14 chapters, separately on production techniques, raw materials, tools and lacquer coating.
Among lacquer works produced in the 18th century, during the successive reigns of emperors Yong Zheng and Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty, the best were still from Zhejiang, Jiangsu and other parts of southern China. Guangdong and Fujian provinces were the greatest exporters of lacquer works. On order of Emperor Qian Long, experts in ivory carving were involved in production of lacquer works exclusively for imperial use. Despite that, Suzhou in Jiangsu Province remained the most important center for lacquer works production not only for the general public but also on imperial orders. We need to note that the emperor was reputed for a high aesthetic taste. Thanks to that, arts and crafts production enjoyed an unprecedented boom during his reign. Problem is that some of the products are too elaborately decorated though still of a high artistic value. Lacquer works produced in Yangzhou, also in Jiangsu, furnish a case in point. These are often inlaid with pieces of a dozen expensive materials including for example gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, jadeite, agate and hawksbill turtle shell, forming pictures of landscapes, human figures, birds, flowers and architectural structures.