- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
The technique used here is not true oriental lacquer but a form of varnishing imitating oriental lacquer known as <i>vernis Martin</i> in France and japanning in England. It is often referred to as European Lacquer on the continent.
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery, case CA10
This lavishly decorated box may have formed part of a toilet service (‘nécessaire de toilette’), together with a matching mirror, brushes and other dressing table paraphernalia. It would have been displayed, along with additional luxury items on a dressing table in an elegantly furnished boudoir.
It is not known who the makers of such services were as they rarely marked their work in any way. They were usually commissioned and put together by a marchand mercier. A complete set is depicted in the celebrated signboard painted by Antoine Watteau about 1721, for the art dealer Gersaint (L’Enseigne de Gersaint). The graphic source for the imaginary pictorial scene on the lid has not been traced but it may represent Vertumnus and Pomona , a subject described in Ovid’s Metamorphosis where the Roman god Vertumnus, disguised as an old woman, attempts to seduce the wood nymph Pomona by relating a parable of marriage. Only when he revealed himself as a young and beautiful god did Pomona fall in love with him and agree to marry him. A scene such as this would have been appropriate for a toilet service supplied or commissioned as a betrothal or wedding gift.
Box of rectangular form with a hinged lid opening from front to back with two hinges set at either end of the back. The lid is domed and the four sides of the lower half slightly concave. The lid is supported when opened by two green silk ribbons, of which the left one is knotted. The exterior is decorated with layers of red lacquer (vernis martin) (TBC) and red glaze (TBC) and decorated with grotesques and arabesques in engraved gold leaf (gold scraffito) on a red ground . The imaginary pictorial scene in the centre of the lid possibly representing ‘Vertumnus and Pomona’ is also executed in gold scraffito. The interior is lacquered (vernis martin) in black with sprinkled gold particles. The punched and chased gilt brass (tbc) key escutcheon in the centre front of the front of the lower half of the box is of a shield form with back to back dolphins encircling the key-hole.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
The technique used here is not true oriental lacquer but a form of varnishing imitating oriental lacquer known as vernis Martin in France and japanning in England. It is often referred to as European Lacquer on the continent.
Height: 101 mm, Width: 291 mm, Depth: 223 mm
Object history note
This object is one of the Museum's earliest acquisitions. It was purchsed in 1863 at a time when the source of an acquisition is not always recorded. Unfortunately the history of this box prior to its arrival in the Museum remains unknown.
Historical context note
It is not known how this particular box was used, though a similar example in the Museum für Lakkunst in Münster is described as being a 'wig case' (coffret a perruques or carrée en tombeau)The fashion for powdered wigs prevalent from the time of Louis XIV required containers, which were made in a variety of materials from those made in silver to plainer examples in more modest materials. Such wig boxes would have been supplied with additional matching powder boxes. The interior of this example is possibly too shallow for use as a wig box but is likely to have been supplied as part of a toilet service.
Red lacquered box (vernis Martin) decorated with gilt arabesques.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Kopplin, Monika. European Lacquer. Munich 2010. pp 110-113
Huth, Hans. Lacquer of the West 1550-1950. London. 1971. pl.224
Sargentson, Carolyn. Merchants and Luxury Markets: The Marchands Merciers of Eighteenth Century Paris. London 1996. pl 55
Elizabeth Miller and Hilary Young, eds., The Arts of Living. Europe 1600-1815. V&A Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 978 1 85177 807 2, illustrated p. 132.
Labels and date
Box. Red lacquer. Decorated with gilt arabesques, cartouches, etc., in the centre a fortune teller; gilt metal lock and hinges. French. 18th century 
Lacquer; Softwood; Varnish
Gilding; Lacquering; Varnishing
Furniture and Woodwork Collection