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A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Chinese Lacquer Technology

Chang, Julie Shih Chu; (2020) A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Chinese Lacquer Technology. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Asian lacquer is a multi-component material and its manufacturing process is complex, utilizing many materials, techniques, component parts, and specific ingredients. This thesis reports a cross-disciplinary study that investigates the different materials included in the production of historical lacquer from Coromandel and carved lacquer objects in China dating from the 15th to the 18th century. A total of 47 samples were collected from 21 targeted research objects dated to the Ming and Qing periods. Samples were embedded into cross sections and examined by fluorescent light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDS). The stratigraphy of each sample was documented and the inorganic components of grounds, lacquer layers and pigments were identified. The grounds are typically comprised of clay. Pigments include mercuric sulfide, orpiment, malachite, lead white and iron oxide. Most of the inorganic inclusions identified in the overlying lacquer layers may be attributed to dust and contamination from the workshop environment, but lead-rich particles detected in the Coromandel lacquer layers may represent a drying agent used to accelerate the curing. The organic components of the lacquers were identified using pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry using tetramethylammonium hydroxide for thermally-assisted hydrolysis and methylation (THM-Py-GC/MS). All three Asian lacquer types – urushi (Chinese, Japanese and Korean lacquer), laccol (Vietnamese lacquer) and thitsi (Thai and Burmese lacquer) - were discovered in the Coromandel objects. Their grounds are typically comprised of blood binder. Both urushi (Toxicodendron vernicifluum) and laccol (Toxicodendron succedaneum) were used in the creation of Chinese carved lacquer. Their ground binders can be either Anacard lacquers or blood. For any one object, the lacquers detected in multiple samples were broadly similar except for Coromandel cabinet 1, which unexpectedly had thitsi lacquer (Gluta usitata) on its panel and urushi lacquer beneath the gilded surface. The data were subjected to principal components analysis to determine any significant groupings. For Coromandel lacquer Group 1 includes objects with a blood ground and a single urushi lacquer application, Group 2 objects have a blood ground with single thitsi and laccol applications and Group 3 objects have a blood ground with three laccol lacquer applications. For carved lacquer samples Group 1 includes objects with lacquer based ground and lacquer coatings, Group 2 blood based ground with urushi coatings and Group 3 blood based ground with laccol applications. A survey of the historical literature has identified references to the materials and technology of lacquer in an extensive range of over one hundred sources, which are considered together for the first time, with new translations by the author for some items. A comparison with the analytical results reveals three main categories: previously established consistencies between written sources and analytical data, the presence of materials which had been anticipated but not previously established, and materials not previously recognized or mentioned in the sources. Examples of the latter include the detection of thitsi lacquer in Coromandel objects, the employment of European smalt in the blue pigmented layer, and the presence of a ground layer rich in vegetal material in carved tixi lacquer. These data show the complexity of Chinese lacquer production and significantly extend our understanding of past manufacturing technologies and material usages of Coromandel and carved lacquers. Not only does this contribute to our appreciation of an important world technological tradition but also can assist the future design of conservation treatment, storage, and display.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Chinese Lacquer Technology
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10090986
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