Often described in the 18th century as Chinese, Japanese and even Indian work, the authentic lacquer pieces imported from China and Japan were both scarce and wildly expensive, so attempts were constantly being made by Western European craftsmen to create exotic and luxurious objects that replicated them. While the Europeans were rarely able to imitate perfectly Asian lacquer-work, the Western pieces, with their ground colors of black and red, and almost always further elaborated with gilt highlights, were almost as highly prized as the originals.
In Berlin, Dresden and Munich and in Northern Italy, where much of the japanned work was popular, the 'Rotes Lackwerk' was especially highly prized. This was a time-consuming and extremely costly process that involved using usually a red-lead ground which was then covered with the brilliant cinnabar scarlet. Therefore, the larger pieces of furniture -- like the elaborate bureau-cabinets were some of the most highly prized of the decorative arts produced in Europe in the late 17th and early 18th century. And in the case of interior architecture, only the wealthiest rulers of these regions could afford such a luxury. The Miniaturen-Kabinett in the Munich Residenz, built between 1731 and 1732 after the designs of François Cuvilliés, is one of the most sophisticated examples (see K. Walch and J. Koller, Lacke des Barock un Rokoko, Munich, 1997, pp. 128-159).
For a Venetian casket with japanned decoration that is nearly identical to the present lot, see W. Holzhausen, Lackkunst in Europa, Munich, 1982, plate V.