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Burmese Gold Leaf Foliage Lacquerware Betel Box with Mythical Lion Chinthe

Burmese Gold Leaf Foliage Lacquerware Betel Box with Mythical Lion Chinthe

Regular price €95,00
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Early 20th century, Pagan, Burma (Myanmar).

Absolutely gorgeous, small-sized cylindrical betel box is decorated in gold leaf and black lacquer, a technique known as shwezawa work. On the lid and sides in black quatrefoils are gold chinthe, a highly stylized leogryph typical of Burmese iconography. Surrounding this on the lid and on the main band on the body, are gold vines of chu-pan foliage. The interior is of plain, black lacquer, as is the underside of the base. 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.

The box is in good condition. Internal trays missing. Age-related wear, abrasion and surface cracking to the lacquer. Minor rubbing to the gold leaf. Size approx. 9,9cm x 7,8cm x 7,8cm.

Provenance: Finnish private collection

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.

Betel Chewing Traditions in South-East Asia, Dawn F. Rooney, Kuala Lumpur, Oxford University Press, 1993. (

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  • Shipping

    The shipment will be prepared in the course of 3-5 days and dispatched via Posti Group Oyj or purchased item(s) can be picked up from our shop during the store's opening hours (Tarkk’ampujankatu 4, 00140, Helsinki, Finland). Within the Finland, all items are shipped via Posti Group Oyj unless otherwise requested. We pack the items carefully and mainly in recycled materials because we want to save nature. You will receive the tracking number for your items by e-mail.

  • Returns

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