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Lacquer Craftsmanship in the Qin and Chu Kingdoms: Two Contrasting Traditions (late 4th to Late 3rd Century BC

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image of Journal of East Asian Archaeology

This article deals with the lacquer traditions of the late Warring States period as seen in the Qin and Chu kingdoms and in relation to recent discoveries from Sichuan. Qin lacquer working techniques and style are different from those of Chu, which are evidenced by hundreds of objects. By contrast, due to poor conditions of preservation, Qin lacquer craftsmanship can only be known through very few objects, some of which show a strong influence from nomadic art. During the late fourth and early third century BC, Sichuan appears to have been a key region in the development of the lacquer art of Qin. Several Qin lacquers have marks either stamped on the core before the application of lacquer or incised with a needle on the lacquer surface. They confirm that the lacquer workshops operated under the control of the state administration. Until the destruction of the Chu capital in 278 bc, the Chu lacquer tradition in the Jiangling area had a more diverse range of shapes than Qin. However, the techniques used to make the cores were less sophisticated than in Qin, except in the case of luxury objects. Only a small number of Chu lacquer pieces have marks. At the same time, the comparisons show that both traditions exerted a mutual influence on each other to some extent until the early third century bc. Thereafter, Qin seems to have dominated the production of lacquer, even in the area that was in earlier times the core of the Chu kingdom, in present-day Hubei and Hunan. Most of the lacquers found in Changsha tombs of the third century bc that have been traditionally considered as Chu products were in fact produced in workshops working in a Qin cultural environment.


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