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  • Place of origin:

    Mexico (Peribán , made)

  • Date:

    1650-1700 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, with <i>embutido</i>(inlay) lacquer decoration

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Dish (batea) carved from a single piece of wood, and decorated in blue, orange, white, purple, pale brown, and white on a black ground. With a central round cartouche with a male, hatted lutenist, around which are three roundels each depicting a white dog, alternating with naked female angels from whose lower bodies emerge scrolling stems that terminate in fruits(?) and a circular blade (?) with stylised bird's head. Around the outside edge is a floral border with four colours of flowers (orange, white, pale brown, dark brown). The reverse with pale brown and orange scrolling leaves and fluting on a black ground.

Place of Origin

Mexico (Peribán , made)


1650-1700 (made)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, with embutido(inlay) lacquer decoration


Diameter: 43 cm, Height: 5 cm

Object history note

Bought from Senor Villa Amil, Leon, for £1.
See J.G. Robinson report 14793, 22 May 1866 "Objects purchased under imprint in Spain 1865; Circular platter or shallow wooden bowl, painted or laquered with elaborate arabesque medallions containing animals, the interspaces filled with terminal figures and .... ornamentation. Spanish 17th century work. diam 17 inches. Purchased of Villa amil,Leon price £1-0-0"

Mr Cole's memo 40607 27 Oct. 1871;
Report, Jan. 1872 on SKM objects acquired as Spanish (generally from a Spanish source) which Senor Riaño declares not to be Spanish (Reg. Pa. 37495/1871) [MA/1/R741/1]
Note, Signor Juan Riaño was appointed as Professional Referee 1870.

156, 157, 158-1866: "Mexican or Peruvian"

Conservation treatment November 2017: surfaces cleaned with deionised water.

Historical context note

Mexican lacquer traditions date back more than 2000 years, and are evidenced through written records and well-preserved polychrome gourd vessels discovered at archaeological sites of the Mexica, Purépecha and Maya in Chiapas, Coahuila, Yucatán, Morelos and Puebla. Lacquered dishes made from a split fruit shell were made and used at home and large quantities were paid as a tax in kind. Indigenous artisans continued to produce lacquered gourd cups and containers in central and southern Mexico throughout the colonial period but it was only in the 17th century that the technique was adapted to decorative arts intended for the Spanish market, coinciding with the Spanish introduction of woodwork made using iron tools. The main centres were the cities of Peribán, Uruapan and Pátzcuaro in the modern state of Michoacán and Olinalá in the state of Guerrero. Each city developed distinct styles and techniques for a diverse array of decorative, utilitarian objects, described at the time as pinturas (paintings) or barnices (varnishes). In the 18th century new terms became popular - laca (lacquer) and maque (from the Japanese maki-e, lacquers with gold or silver), when the use of black backgrounds with golden motifs make this relation more obvious.

The earliest lacquerware workshops were in Peribán. An inlay or embutido technique praised by Spanish commentators for its beauty, durability and resistance to hot liquids was invented there by indigenous artisans, and applied to writing desks, boxes, chests, gourd bowls (tecomates), cups (jícaras) and large wooden dishes (bateas). The batea, which might be as large as 125cm in diameter, was the most widespread lacquer artefact during the colonial period. It was probably used mainly for ornamental use.

Mexican lacquer used locally available materials, essentially an oil mixed with powdered dolomite or mineral clay (laboriously ground by hand) to produce a thick liquid, to which organic and mineral colourants were added. Three main ingredients have been identified: aje oil derived from the females of a small sap-feeding insect (Llaveia axin or Coccus axin) which was cultivated, harvested and processed; chia oil (extracted from the seeds of a sage plant native to Mexico Salvia chian; oil from the seeds of the chicalote, or Mexican poppy (Argemone mexicana).
A first coating was allowed to dry completely. The designs were incised on the surface, then the interior of the designs were removed with a steel point or burin down to the wood. Coloured lacquers were applied one colour at a time, filling in the excised areas of the designs. Each application of lacquer required burnishing with a soft cloth while curing, a process that took several days. Artisans then added details to the figures by incising cross-hatching, which was then filled with lacquer of a contrasting colour, creating a shading effect clearly borrowed from European engravings. Early designs suggest that Mexican lacquer workers were influenced by European prints depicting landscapes with small figures and animals, and using a vocabulary of scrolling stems, strapwork cartouches, medallions and grotesque ornament. Other, more stylised, designs may have been influenced by the designs on contemporary ceramics as well as traditional Mexican motifs.

Select bibliography
Mitchell Codding, 'The lacquer Arts of Latin America', in Made in the Americas - The New World Discovers Asia by Dennis Carr with contributions by Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Timothy Brook, Mitchell Codding, Karina H. Corrigan, Donna Pierce (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2015), pp. 82-85;
Sonia Perez Carrillo, La Laca Mexicana – Desarollo de un Oficio Artesanal en el Virreinato de la Nueva España Durante el Siglo XVIII (Madrid, 1990)

Comparable pieces

Batea, diam.110cm; Museo del América (Madrid), inv. 6922 in Carrillo, cat. no. 4

Descriptive line

medallions-beasts, winged females; Mexican, 1650-1700, black, 17"

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

South Kensington Museum, John Charles Robinson, J. C Robinson, and R. Clay, Sons and Taylor. 1881. Catalogue of the Special Loan Exhibition of Spanish and Portuguese Ornamental Art: South Kensington Museum, 1881. London: Chapman & Hall, p.124






Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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