Stuart Lacquerware Manual

Posted: Monday, 17 October 2011 - 12:00am
A Treatise of Japaning and Varnishing: Being a Compleat Discovery of Those Arts...
John Stalker and George Parker
TP942 .S724 1688q
Elise and Wesley Wright, Jr. '51 Marquand Book Fund
Oxford: Printed for, and Sold by the Authors, 1688
84 p., 24 leaves of plates: ill.; 37 cm.

Increased trade and diplomatic contact with the Far East during the seventeenth century nurtured European taste for exotic goods, such as lacquer, porcelain, and patterned silks. Oriental lacquer objects, first imported into Europe in the late sixteenth century, came from Japan, China, India, and Java, but were frequently referred to simply as “Indiaware.”  However, after Japan closed off much of its trade with the outside world by 1639, authentic lacquer became increasingly expensive and scarce, so European craftsmen experimented with creating their own versions of lacquered surface ornament, known as “japanning.”  This book is one of the earliest English pattern books offering imagery, motifs, and instructions for creating “Japan-work, in imitation of the Indians.” Stalker and Parker’s description reflects the confusion amongst Europeans at this time about actual sources of what would later be considered chinoiserie.

Plate 21: patterns for japanned workPlate 21: patterns for japanned work

Plate 21: patterns for japanned work

Motifs from the engraved illustrations served as patterns not only for japanned furniture and small, decorative objects, such as mirror frames, toilet boxes and brushes, but have also been identified in certain English ceramics and embroidered textiles. As well as providing “above an hundred distinct patterns for Japan-work,” the authors also included practical and lucid instructions for creating recipes for many types of lacquer and varnish, and “for counterfeiting tortoise-shell, and marble, and for staining or dying wood, ivory, and horn.” Complete copies of this book seldom survive, possibly because the authors encouraged the reader to “take the designs out of the book, prepare verso with whiting, and use the prepared plates to transfer the designs onto a box or table to be decorated.”

Plate 4: designs for japanned ornament for clothes brushes and a jewelry boxPlate 4: designs for japanned ornament for clothes brushes and a jewelry box

Plate 4: designs for japanned ornament for clothes brushes and a jewelry box

Little is known about John Stalker and George Parker, though it is thought that Stalker was a maker of japanned furniture and Parker may have been a japanner and varnisher. Several issues of the edition exist, some crediting Stalker with sole authorship, some Parker, and some stating joint authorship, as in Marquand’s copy. The book, though printed in Oxford, was also distributed in London, where there was a ready market among skilled craftsmen of fashionable goods.  It was dedicated to the countess of Derby. Japanned work was made by amateurs, including ladies of genteel birth, as well as by professional artisans.

Nicola Shilliam