Seal for 'Xipiqi' Title, Great Cultural Renaissance

Rhino Skin Lacquer: Xipiqi

The letter 'X'ipiqi is the name of the technique used to make mottled lacquer objects. Pronounced something like "she-pee-chee", it can be written in different characters, and so means either "rhino hide" or "western skin". It has other regional names, such as "tigerskin lacquer" or "pineapple lacquer".

Picture of Xipiqi box, with function to magnify the view
2-Color Xipiqi Box

The technique was first developed in the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.), when it was used to decorate small and very high quality wooden objects, often the "Four Treasures of the Study". Because of the labor and difficulty in creating it, xipiqi was never very common. Examples occured through the Ming Dynasty and into the early Qing (18th century), before it fell out of fashion and the technique into disuse.

Most xipiqi is called "two color", consisting of black and red lacquer, though there may be different shades of red. More rare are three or even 4 color, where yellow or gold may be added as well.

One reason for the rarity is the amount of time and work which go into each piece. Our artisan will not say a word about his technique, but in general it requires around a dozen layers of lacquer. The layers are of different colors, and before each is quite dry the artisan will do something to pit the still-damp layer. These pits are then filled when the next color lacquer is applied, so when the final layer is dried and it is sanded to a smooth finish different layers are exposed to give the colors.

With all the work and drying time, it takes 3 months from start to finish to make a xipiqi box. Even after all that work and time, on nearly half the boxes the lacquer does not take properly, and the boxes must be discarded, or stripped and reworked.

In the photograph above, examine the pattern as it goes around the corner. One of the characteristics of xipiqi is that corners and edges of the object do not interrupt the pattern: the blotches of color fold neatly around them. This is one of the things to look for in good quality xipiqi.

Picture of Xipiqi box, with function to magnify the view
3-Color Xipiqi Box, Red, Black, and Yellow
Historically xipiqi could be applied to any surface: wood, metal, porcelain, stone... Our artisans have the art of applying xipiqi onto a flat surface, and so can supply us with boxes. As they experiment or when we discover craftsmen who have the technique we hope to supply other materials and shapes.

Click on the photos and adjust the magnification to get an idea of what good xipiqi should look like. Or click here to see the xipiqi items currently in stock.

Lifesize closeup of 2-color xipiqi box, with function to magnify the view
2-color xipiqi. Photo has been adjusted so the pattern is seen at the actual size.