The fantastical 'japanned' decoration on this piece reflects the fashion for Chinese ornament following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, when trade with the Far East flourished. Inspired by imported lacquer screens and chests, Messrs. Stalker and Parker published their A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing of 1688. In order to keep up with the high demand, fine lacquered objects were imitated by local cabinet-makers and amateur painters. In their Epistle preceding their guide, Stalker and Parker wrote: 'We have laid before you an Art very much admired by us, and all those who hold any commerce with the Inhabitants of JAPAN: but that Island not being able to furnish these parts with work of this kind, the English and Frenchmen endeavoured to imitate them; that by these means the Nobillity and Gentry might be completely furnisht with whole Setts of Japan-work...'
By 1696, lacquered objects, particularly cabinets, had become 'status symbols' for Royalty and members of their inner circle both in England and beyond. For example an inventory taken at the time of Queen Mary's death includes a number of 'india japan' furnishings in the Queen's bedchamber at Kensington Palace where she displayed her large collection of Oriental porcelain. This court fashion was brought to its height in the first few decades of the eighteenth century, at which time cabinet-makers such as Giles Grendey and John Belchier were producing elaborate case and seat furniture. Grendey is renowned for the palatial suite of 'Chinese red lacquer', known as the Infantado suite, supplied circa 1735 - 40 to either Don Juan de Dios de Silva Mendoza y Sandoval, 10th Duque del Infantado (1672-1737), or his daughter, Doña Maria Teresa de Silva y Mendoza, 11th Duquesa del Infantado (1707-1770) (C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700 - 1840, Leeds, 1996, p. 86, pl. 68 and pp. 245 - 248, pls. 442 - 451).
Among lacquered and japanned furniture of the period, the rich 'red-Japan' ground conjured up from 'Dragons-Blood' was particularly prized. However, few decorated chests of this form survive. A similarly rare writing-table/chest also with large scale raised decoration depicted on a scarlet ground was originally in the collection of Sir Philip Sassoon, Bt. at Trent Park, Hertfordshire and sold Christie's London, Works of Art from Collections of The Cholmondeley Family and The Late Sir Philip Sassoon, Bt. from Houghton, 8 December 1994, lot 114 (£170,000 including premium).