Decorated Lacquerware Kun-It BLW10

Referred to in Burmese as kun-it this antique lacquerware box is from Bagan, Burma. A kun-it or betel box is an indispensable item of hospitality in a Burmese household. Lacquerware has been one of the most important decorative crafts of Burma for centuries. Lacquer was a popular gift to foreign envoys from members of the Burmese court.

This kun-it was constructed from coils of bamboo (tin-wa) slivers that were applied with several layers of lacquer and decorated with a sharp iron stylus. The substance used to make lacquer in Burma is called thit-si, a sap from the Melanorrhoea usitata, a tree that grows wild in Burma, mostly in the Shan States. Cinnabar from China was added to achieve the red color and green from a combination of orpiment and indigo. The art of achieving certain tonal qualities of color is a closely guarded secret and it has been said that a master will not impart this secret even to his wife and only to the most trusted of his sons.

Interlocking designs which create an attractive framework for other motifs are popular in Burmese decorative art. This piece is incised with one of the simplest patterns referred to as ku-nan-kan-byat (Yunnan semi-circle design). The outlines are expressed in black on a red-orange background with very fine rows of circular lines.

There are scratches present on the exterior on this kun-it as well as surface cracks consistent with its age as shown in the photos.

Height: 9cm, 3.5 in
Diameter: 11cm, 4.3 in
Provenance: Antique Dealer, Bagan
Period: Late 19th century

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