These vases may conceivably be the 'five China Jars & Covers' recorded in the Picture Gallery at Althorp in Benjamin Goodison's 1746 Inventory. However, another 5-piece blue and white garniture remains at Althorp which could equally well apply.
Among export ceramics arriving into Europe from Japan via the Dutch East India Company in the 1680s some of the grandest were the large Imari five-piece garnitures. Used to magnificent effect in interior schemes, influenced by the designers Daniel Marot and others, these garnitures were displayed on lacquer cabinets or in fireplaces during the summer months. As here they were usually of rounded form with exaggerated pear-shaped finials. This garniture however exhibits a rare and almost unique embellishment - that of being lacquered. With the arrival of lacquered export cabinets from Japan, decorated in gold hiramaki-e on a black ground with landscapes and figurative scenes, there became the desire for other objects in the then fashionable black and gold scheme. The Dutch registers record through the 1650s to 1680s lacquer dishes, bowls, barber's bowls and chairs. There were also large lacquer jars such as those in the collection of Kynzuart Chateau in the Czech Republic and another in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. It is probable therefore that this garniture was specially ordered to be decorated by the lacquerers in Kyoto. This combination of porcelain and lacquer must have been extremely expensive at the time. Leaving only a small area of the porcelain exposed, the lacquer decoration along with the black and gold utilises inlaid mother-of-pearl more typical of the earlier export lacquers seen in the Momoyama Period at the end of the 16th century. This may have been ordered specifically to create a more glamorous effect when lit by candlelight.
The vases have some European over-Japanning, probably done either on arrival in Europe or when the covers became damaged, possibly as early as the 18th century. There are records of Japanning being used to repair objects in the late 17th and 18th century - such as in 1759, when Lord Irwin of Temple Newsam was charged five guineas for 'Cleaning and Repairing and new Drawing an India cabinet' by William Fleece, "India" referring to a Japanese export lacquer cabinet.
For further information see Philippe Suchomel, Marcela Suchomelova, A Surface Created for Decoration, Japanese Lacquer Art from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, Prague, 2002, no. 25, p.111 and Yamazaki Tsuyoshi, Umi wo watatta Nihon Shikki 1. (16-17, Seiki), Tokyo, 2001, no. 426.