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Burmese Lacquers

June 15, 2017 | Julia Yemin

The first examples of lacquers in Myanmar were found in Bagan (1044). The city that was invaded (and plundered) by the Tartar troops of Kubilai Khan along with the visit of Marco Polo, which reports splendors of the city.

It is in these pagodas of Bagan that were found the oldest parts and most splendid artwork. They were offered by the faithful ones with an aim of receiving special merits.

Each part of lacquer (one says a lacquer for the objects and the lacquer for the resin) is finely decorated and often it is a single part. They are either functional and daily objects, or of pieces of furniture, or of containers in all kinds. The lacquers can be also muds, jewel boxes, cups, glasses, tables, lamps, the imagination of the creators does not have limits. The technique has been the same one for 900 years.

A craftsman braids a model of the object, which he wants to manufacture with fine stems of bamboo (or hair of horse) on which he will coat several layers of lacquer (the lacquer is the resin of a tree “Thitsi” (Melanorrhoea usitatissima) which was used to waterproof the objects of basket making. Then the craftsman (or the artist) finely decorates it by engraved reasons (in incrustation), which it fills of colors according to the desired effect, then it polishes it before putting it at the furnace. Decoration informs beautiful ferric scenes, at royal scenes of the olden days, puts in scene mythological or astrological characters or mythical animals like the Hintha bird or any desirable designs.

Essentially the only place where these elegant lacquers are manufactured it is Bagan. Many families devote themselves to it until today, by using the ancestral methods. A manufacturing process of lacquers can go up to 26 various stages before being finished, and it sometimes takes several months before finishing a part (almost a year) and the trade secret of such parts is carefully preserved.

The lacquers of Bagan are of color red, whereas one finds in Kentoung or close to Monywa, in Kyautkka, of the black lacquers that are colored beforehand.

Of everyday usage, the Burmese lacquers are also museum pieces and British museum devotes a whole room to them.