Analytical Examination and Conservation of East Asian Lacquer Works from European Collections

  • Václav PitthardEmail author
  • Silvia Miklin-Kniefacz
  • Sabine Stanek
  • Martina Griesser
Part of the Cultural Heritage Science book series (CUHESC)


The study summarises results of a comprehensive research regarding scientific examination of coatings and foundations of selected exceptional pieces of East Asian lacquer works from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, which helped to prepare and subsequently conduct the relevant conservation treatment. Particularly, a Japanese Namban cabinet from the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (KHM, Kunstkammer), two Japanese lacquer cabinets and two Japanese lacquer chests from the Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna, two lacquer cabinets from the Liechtenstein City Palace, Vienna, three lacquer boxes, a table and a cabinet from a private collection, Austria, and a series of lacquer panels from the Chinese Pavilion at Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm, Sweden, were examined in past years. These comprehensive investigations by means of optical and SEM microscopy and (Py)-GC/MS techniques helped to identify both the stratigraphical layout and the detailed composition of the studied coatings, and revealed that the objects of East Asian origin were often restored and covered using European materials as well as pieces of East Asian artefacts were incorporated in European furniture pieces.


East Asian lacquers European varnishes Optical and SEM microscopy Pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) 



The authors wish to thank all the colleagues of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (special thanks to Shuya Wei), the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, the Liechtenstein City Palace, Vienna, the Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna, and the Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm, involved in this research for their assistance and co-operation. In addition, we want to thank The Getty Conservation Institute and especially Michael Schilling and the RAdICAL team for their support. The Austrian Science Fund (FWF, Project No. L187-N11) is gratefully acknowledged for the financial funding.


  1. 1.
    Frade J.C., M.I. Ribeiro, J. Graça T. Vasconcelos and J. Rodrigues J. 2010. Chemotaxonomic application of Py-GC/MS: Identification of lacquer trees. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 89: 117–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Heginbotham A. and M. Schilling. 2011. New evidence for the use of Southeast Asian raw materials in seventeenth century Japanese export lacquer. In Rivers, S., Faulkner, R. & Pretzel, B. eds. 2011. East Asian Lacquer: Material Culture, Science and Conservation. London: Archetype Publications Ltd. in association with Victoria and Albert Museum. Kopplin, M. 2002. Lacquerware in Asia, today and yesterday. UNESCO Publishing: 178.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jütte W. 1989–91. Mikrochemischer Nachweis natürlicher Harze mit Alkannafarbstoffen in Querschliffen von Malschichtproben. Wien. In: Wiener Berichte über Naturwissenschaft in der Kunst (6–8). Vendl Alfred, Pichler Bernhard, Weber Johannes, Erlach Rudolf, Banik Gerhard.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kühlenthal M. 2000. Japaners and European Lacquerware, ed. M. Kühlenthal, München: Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Le Hô A.S. M. Regert, O. Marescot, C. Duhamel, J. Langlois, T. Miyakoshi. C, Genty and M. Sablier. 2012. Molecular Criteria for Discriminating Museum Asian Lacquerware from Different Vegetal Origins by Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry. Analytica Chimica Acta 710: 9–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Lu R. Y. Kamiya, T. Miyakoshi. 2006. Applied Analysis of Lacquer Films Based on Pyrolysis-Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry. Talanta 70: 370–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Miklin-Kniefacz S. V. Pitthard, W. Parson, C. Berger, S. Stanek, M. Griesser S. Kuckova. 2016. Searching for blood in Chinese lacquerware, Studies in Conservation 61: sup3, 45–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Mills J.S. and R.White. 1994. The organic chemistry of museum objects. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Odegaard N. S. Carroll, W.S. Zimmt. 2005. Material characterization tests for objects of art and archaeology. London: Archetype Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Pitthard V. S. Stanek, M. Griesser, C. Jordan, S. Miklin-Kniefacz. 2016. Technical investigations of an 18th century Chinese imperial carved lacquer screen – valuable contribution to the conservation strategy. Studies in Conservation 61: sup3, 97–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Pitthard V. S. Wei, S. Miklin-Kniefacz, S. Stanek, M. Griesser and M. Schreiner. 2010. Scientific Investigations of Antique Lacquers from a 17th-Century Japanese Ornamental Cabinet. Archaeometry 52(6): 1044–1056.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Schilling M.R. 2012. Anacard marker compounds. Recent Advances in Characterizing Asian Lacquers (RAdiCAL) workshop, 22–26 October 2012, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles. Personal communication.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Schilling M.R. and A. Heginbotham. 2016. Beyond the basics: A systematic approach for comprehensive analysis of organic materials in Asian lacquers, Studies in Conservation 61: sup3, 3–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Schramm H.P. and B. Hering. 1995. Historische Malmaterialien und ihre Identifizierung. Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke Verlag.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Sutherland K. 2010. Bleached Shellac Picture Varnishes: Characterization and Case Studies. Journal of the Institute of Conservation 33(2): 129–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Sutherland K. J.C. Del Rio. 2014. Characterisation and discrimination of various types of lac resin using gas chromatography mass spectrometry techniques with quaternary ammonium reagents. Journal of Chromatography A, 1338: 149–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Webb M. 2007. Lacquer Technology and Conservation. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Václav Pitthard
    • 1
    Email author
  • Silvia Miklin-Kniefacz
    • 2
  • Sabine Stanek
    • 1
  • Martina Griesser
    • 1
  1. 1.Conservation Science DepartmentKunsthistorisches MuseumViennaAustria
  2. 2.Atelier for conservation and restoration (metals, brush)ViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations