Cinnabar, noun

Cinnabar 2

No, cinnabar has nothing to do with those delicious-smelling pastries that tug at your taste buds at the airport. Cinnabar refers to the bright scarlet to brick-red form of mercury sulfide, a common source of ore for refining elemental mercury. It’s been used for its colorful properties since antiquity in the Near East (including as a rouge-type cosmetic), in the New World (since the Olmec culture) and in China, since as early as the Song dynasty, where it was used in coloring lacquerware. Cinnabar is seen most often today in reference to Chinese antiques.

The cinnabar circular lidded box pictured here will be sold at Michaan’s Auctions’ Fine Asian Works of Art sale on June 18th, where it has an estimate of $30,000-$50,000. The art of carved lacquer was mastered in China as early as 400 BC. This superb example of the ancient art form displays the meticulous detail characteristics of its period – the 18th century reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Decorated with four dragons, flaming pearls and stylized, swirling clouds, the piece bears a golden six-character Qianlong mark in its black lacquer interior.

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