Paint and lacquers
The Stone Age cave paintings at Lascaux in southern France and Altamira in northern Spain are examples of the earliest works of art in human history.
Ceiling painting from the Altamira cave.
The colors made of animal fats and colored earths, as well as lard as a bonding agent and ochre as a pigment used in those days, are in principle similar to today’s methods. Animal products could attain no particular place as a raw lacquer material, although the word “lacquer” is certainly related to shellac, the resinous metabolic product of a scale insect found in India. The word, which comes from the Sanskrit, means “100,000” and represents the large number of animals required for the winning of resin.
The oldest lacquer work from China (500 B.C.) was developed in East Asia to its highest blossoming period and achieved perfection in Japan, are much later than the around 15,000 year old Stone Age paintings. The Japanese made their lacquer from the bark of the lacquer tree, and it was applied in 20 to 30 coats. Works of the highest artistic level were made.
These lacquer wares reached Europe through the Portuguese, who first landed in China in 1515. The Old World began to take an interest in the development of lacquers and by 1610 the “Compagnie van Lackwercken” came into being in Amsterdam. Further lacquer plants followed in other countries.
Knowledge of the then almost 2,000 year old Chinese art reached Europe in the 16th century. The strong demand on the one hand, and the sensitivity of the lacquer tree-