Of these square Oriental cabinets, those from Japan as well as China were also mounted on English or French stands, and, in the absence of a knowledge which allows of the work of the one country being distinguished from that of the other, it may be worth while to point out one characteristic which the Japanese cabinets nearly always have, and which the Chinese do not possess. Fig. 503 is one of these Japanese cabinets, of the mid-eighteenth century, and it will be noticed that the cabinet rests on a cut-out bracket plinth, or, more properly, on four stump feet. The open spaces, between, have been filled, at a later date, and in this country, with backboards, or " aprons," to give a solid appearance to the whole piece. This cabinet was made to stand on the floor, which is the customary seat of the Japanese, to whom chairs or stools were unknown at this period. The Chinese, on the other hand, possessed both, from the simple seat, to the mandarin, princely or imperial throne or chair of state. The Japanese eye-level, therefore, when seated, is on a plane nearly three feet lower than that of China, and while, to our Western notions, these cabinets appear correct when mounted on a stand such as this, to Japanese eyes they are unnecessarily and even incongruously elevated. It must not be assumed, however, that a cabinet without these stump feet, is necessarily Chinese.
These Oriental square cabinets, usually with raised and gilded ornament on a black ground, were freely copied in this country during the last quarter of the seventeenth century, and with varying success. In no instance is the English lacquer comparable, in point of workmanship, with either the Chinese or the Japanese, but this is not remarkable, considering the natural advantages possessed by the Oriental, to which previous reference has been made. This in no wise prevented the publication of text-books on the subject of "lackering," such as the folio of Stalker and Parker (John Stalker "of the Golden Ball" and George Parker "of Oxford") which appeared in 1688 with the grandiose title " A Treatise of Japaning and Varnishing. Being the Compleat Discovery of those Arts, with The best way of making all sorts of Varnish for Japan, Wood, Prints and Pictures, The Method of Guilding, Burnishing, and Lackering with the Art of Guilding, Separating and Refining Metals, etc. etc."
Apart from its quaint and amusing character, showing that the wealthy public must have been as gullible, in the seventeenth century, as they have been at many periods since, and in spite of the "Compleat Discovery" as announced on the title page, there is little, if anything, in the book which is not common knowledge to an ordinary coach-painter. There is one remark, however, which is worth quoting here, as possessing a significance which will be apparent at a later stage in this chapter. The author refers to "Some who have made new Cabinets out of Old Skreens; and, from that large old piece, by the help of a Joyner, make little ones, such as Stands or Tables, but never consider the situation of their figures; so that in these things so torn and hacked to joint a new fancie you may observe the finest hodg-podg and medley. . . ."
Of the square cabinets of European workmanship, before referred to, the one shown in Figs. 504 and 505, although not of the highest quality, may be taken as typical. The stand is now silvered, but this is later work, although nearly all the original Charles II so-called gilt stands were silvered, and then overlaid with gold lacquers to imitate gilding. Very little of this Restoration work has persisted to our day in its pristine state, however. At a later period, from about 1680 to 1690, it became the custom to add a cresting of carved gilt pine, placed on the cabinet without fixing of any kind. Of these crested cabinets Figs. 506 and 507 may be taken as typical, the first of about 1690, the second of the end of the seventeenth or the first years of the eighteenth century. In both the carved stands are not only heavily prepared for gilding, the carving is actually finished, as far as the finer details are concerned, in this thick coating of size and whiting. This is the usual method, and accounts for the fact that when this preparation is either badly damaged or stripped entirely, the fine veinings disappear with it.
Fig. 509. Chinese Lacquered Cabinet On Carved Gilt Stand. - 5 ft. 8 ins. high by 3 ft. 4 ins. wide by 1 ft. 6 ins. deep. - Date about 1680. - Messrs. Gregory and Co.
Twelve-Fold Chinese Screen One Half
While the square cabinets of Japanese origin are by no means uncommon, those of Chinese workmanship are exceedingly rare. This can be accounted for, in a large measure, by the fact that the square cabinet on dwarfed feet, such as the upper part of Fig. 503, is a complete Japanese piece in itself, whereas such an article of furniture is unknown in China, the equivalent being a standing cupboard, sometimes with two tall doors, more often with four, one tier above the other. A peculiarity of the Chinese double door is that a fixed meeting style, - really the broad edge of a vertical central partition, - is provided, and in the centre of this a projecting eyelet is fixed, with two others, to correspond, fixed to the doors themselves. To secure the doors it is only necessary to pass a skewer through the three eyelets. No actual locking security is achieved by this means, of course, but apparently none is demanded. This form of cupboard is quite unsuited for placing on a carved stand, nor is it possible to cut it in two carcases, laterally, as either the bottom of the upper part, or the top of the lower, would have to be sacrificed. A square cabinet, complete in itself, of actual Chinese make, would only be possible in the case where such a piece was directly commissioned from Europe, and until almost the middle of the eighteenth century, intercourse direct with China was too spasmodic or irregular to render such pieces plentiful in any way. Cabinets which have been made in Europe, from Chinese screens which have been cut up, although still rare, are not so scarce, - nor so valuable. Fig. 509 is one of these, evidently of the kind referred to by Stalker and Parker in 1688. The doors and the fronts of the drawers inside have been frankly cut from screen panels or folds. The brass mounts, and the carcase-work of the cabinet itself are of English workmanship. The lacquer here is of the cut or Coromandel kind (known at the time as " Bantam work ") in polychrome on a black ground, and is somewhat earlier than the date of the cabinet itself, although still of the Manchu dynasty. It has the freedom and bold drawing which is rare in the lacquer of Ch'ien-lung or later.