Burmese Lacquerware Betel Box
Burmese Lacquerware Betel Box
Late 19th or early 20th century, Pagan, Burma (Myanmar).
Superb lacquered woven split bamboo betel box. Chewing betel (called also paan, pinang, or penang), the mixture of areca nut and betel leaf, is a tradition, custom, and ritual which dates back thousands of years in South-Asia and Pacific. Cylindrical boxes, called kun-it, were used to store ingredients needed for betel chewing, which in its basic form consists of slices of nut mixed with lime paste wrapped in betel leaf. The trays in the box would contain these ingredients, or even coconut, saffron or fragrant spices for more special betel preparations.
Lacquer in Burma (thit-si), meaning the sap of a tree (Gluta usitata) that grows wild in Burma, mostly in the Shan States. It is straw-coloured but turns black on exposure to air. When brushed, it forms a hard glossy smooth surface resistant to moisture or heat. The object is coated layer upon layer to make a smooth surface. As the lacquer is very thin when applied, it requires many coats to provide an even finish. The preceding coat must be completely dry and highly polished before applying the next one. With some objects having hundreds of layers, the production of lacquerware was a time consuming and expensive business. The materials used to make the betel box were finely woven or coiled bamboo slivers (tin-wa), often mixed with horsehair for the lightweight basketry base, putty-like filler (thayo) made from black sap mixed with ashes or sawdust, and tinted lacquer. The bright red colour derives from cinnabar (mercuric sulphide) powder mixed with raw sap.
Gorgeous betel box decorated in the incised technique (yun) with the a semi-circular design (ku-nan kan-byat). The pattern has many variants but is seen here in its classic form, drawn free-hand with a very fine needle-point tool (tont-yun). Decorated also with fine black lines, and fine yellow dots in the background, known as the "chilli-seed" (nga-youk se) pattern. The box comprises the base, the cover and one internal tray. Good condition. Age-related wear, abrasion and surface cracking to the lacquer. Professionally repaired. Size approx. 23,5cm x 23,5cm x 20,5cm.
Provenance: Finnish private collection
For a similar examples see:
The British Museum, Accession number: 1998,0723.32 (https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/A_1998-0723-32)
The British Museum, Accession number: 1998,0723.4 (https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/A_1998-0723-4)
Burmese Lacquerware, Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Orchid Press Publishing Limited, 1 Sept. 2001, p. 199.
Burma and the Art of Lacquer, Ralph Isaacs & T. Richard Blurton, River Books, January 1, 2000, p. 76
References and further reading:
Visions from the Golden Land: Burma and the Art of Lacquer, Ralph Isaacs & T. Richard Blurton & British Museum, Art Media Resources Ltd, March 1, 2000.
Lacquerware Journeys: The Untold Story of Burmese Lacquer, Than Htun, River Books Press Dist A C, March 16, 2013.
Burmese Lacquerware, Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Orchid Press Publishing Limited, 1 Sept. 2001.
Burma and the Art of Lacquer, Ralph Isaacs & T. Richard Blurton, River Books, January 1, 2000.
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