From Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar), late 19th century AD
Lacquer container for offerings to the Buddha or the monastery
Lacquerware has been an important craft in Burma for many centuries. Lacquer is the sap of a tree native to South-east Asia, gluta usitata. To get a smooth finish, layers of lacquer mixed with ash are applied over a base of coiled or woven bamboo, wood or sheet metal. Burmese lacquer is famous for the engraved surfaces, and the addition of colour (especially vermilion) glass inlay and gold-leaf. Lacquerware was favoured by the kings of Burma as gifts to foreign envoys and for use in royal ceremony. A wide range of lacquer objects are used in the religious life.
A hsun-ok is a container for offerings to the Buddha and the sangha, the community of monks. They are traditionally placed on an altar either side of a Buddha image. Gifts of flowers, fruit and incense are placed in them. This hsun-ok is in five parts: the stand and bowl, an inner tray, the lid with a spire, the mythical hintha-bird on the top and a short finial. Gilded black and scarlet lacquer covers the coiled bamboo base. The outside is decorated with elements such as dragons and flower blossoms made of lacquer sap mixed with ash which has then been moulded or sculpted like putty.
This magnificent hsun-ok was bought in Mandalay in 1895. Mandalay was the last independent capital of the kingdom of Burma before the British annexation of Upper Burma in 1885. The size and grandeur of this example suggest that it was used at royal court in Mandalay.
R. Isaacs and T. Richard Blurton, Visions from the Golden Land: (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)
Asia OA 1994.11-16.1
Brooke Sewell Fund