Priestley & Ferraro - The Immortal Surface 2020

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Priestley & Ferraro chinese art

Priestley & Ferraro chinese art

T he I mmortal S urface A ges

E xpressions of C hinese L acquer


T he I mmortal S urface A ges and E xpressions C hinese L acquer

P riestley & F erraro chinese art 3 Bury Street, St James’s London SW1Y 6AB tel: +44 (0) 20 7930 6228 email:


T he I mmortal S urface A ges and E xpressions of C hinese L acquer The twenty-two lacquer items in this exhibition hail from three different countries, were made over a span of many centuries and exhibit numerous different techniques of the lacquermaker’s art, yet all have one thing in common. They were made to last. For while in later centuries lacquer became a medium in its own right, it was always primarily a coating applied to preserve the more short-lived medium underneath, usually timber. This ability to extend the life of otherwise ephemeral materials became, over the years, incorporated into the decorative vocabulary of the lacquermakers themselves, and appears in many guises. First, and perhaps most simply, there is the colour red - the second most popular lacquer colour after black – symbolizing long life by its association with cinnabar. Secondly, there is the harmonious marriage of lacquer and mother-of-pearl. It is a perfect union as both substances, lacquer and nacre, set hard having been laid down in layers, while mother-of-pearl, by its close association with pearl, a symbol of the moon, home of Chang’e with her elixir of immortality, indirectly denotes longevity. Third, carved or painted decoration often features the theme of longevity explicitly, through the depiction of Daoist Immortals, or Shou Lao, the God of Longevity, or other symbols of immortality, like pine trees, deer and peaches. Like a cloak of immortality, the lacquer applied to the various substrates of the items in this exhibition, has preserved them for our enjoyment and appreciation, and will – we are sure - continue to do so far into the future. David Priestley March 2020

1 A PAINTED AND LACQUERED WOOD DOUBLE-HEADED ANTLERED TOMB GUARDIAN, ZHENMUSHOU Chu Kingdom, Warring States Period (475-221 BC) Height: 105 cm, 41 ¼ inches 戰國 楚國 彩繪黑漆木雕雙頭鎭墓獸 高105釐米

The composite creature is of alarming appearance, comprising two beasts facing in opposite directions, each with a squarish face with a square-cut mane with stylized curls, protruding boss-shaped eyes, a broad nose with a tusk curving up on each side, downward-pointing fangs and, most prominently, a long pointed lolling tongue, all with red painted detailing. At the temples of each are tenons into which slot the ends of a pair of impressive many-tined stag antlers, shaved and lacquered and with painted detailing in red and white. Each head is carried on a broad sinuous neck of square section, with a square collar, joined to its partner at the nape of the neck and below the collar to form, overall, a lyre-shaped mortise that sockets into the broad square tenon of the base. The base is formed of a block of square section with sloping upper surface, cut with channels to create raised panels at the sides and corners. The whole is applied with a thin layer of black lacquer, worn in places to reveal the timber beneath.

Tomb guardians of this remarkable type were made in the Chu kingdom, one of the Warring States of the later Zhou Dynasty. Chu remained independent until its conquest by the state of Qin in 223 B.C. It has been shown through excavations to be one of the most important centres for the production of lacquer in early China, and the richest sites, producing distinctive zoomorphic sculptures like the present figure, are in Jiangling in Hubei province. Although not certain, it is assumed that figures like the present one were apotropaic, intended to scare away spirits that might disturb the occupant of the tomb. A double-headed guardian and stand was unearthed in 1975 from tomb 1 at Tianxingguan, Jiangling, Hubei province and is illustrated by Tang Rensheng in Lacquer Wares of the Chu Kingdom, no. 57, p. 55. Another closely related example, also with a double head, from the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection of Early Chinese Art is in the collection of the Portland Museum, no. 2002.71.1A-E. A further antlered tomb guardian figure but with a single head is in the collection of the Shanghai Museum and is illustrated in 千文万华. 中国历代漆器艺术 “In a Myriad of Forms: The Ancient Chinese Lacquers”, p. 28-29.

2 A LACQUER-PAINTED POTTERY FIGURE OF A WILD DUCK Warring States Period (475-221 BC) or Western Han dynasty (206 BC- 9 AD), c. 3rd century BC Length: 16 cm, 6 ¼ inches 戰國至西漢 描漆彩灰陶鸭 長16釐米

The duck is naturalistically depicted with a plump body and short upright neck, with the head facing forwards. The body is applied overall with a gesso-like layer to form a basis for the painted decoration, which is finely executed in black lacquer with different types of plumage for the back, the wings, the breast and the throat. The bright eye of the bird is picked out in an orange tone, with a black pupil. The underside has two sockets for the attachment of legs, perhaps made of metal or wood and now disintegrated. The body material is light grey coloured clay.

Examples of the early use of lacquer as a pigment, as here, rather than as a coating, are extremely rare. For a pair of closely comparable pottery ducks with lacquer-painted decoration from the Florence and Herbert Irving collection, see The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collection database, Accession Number 2015.500.7.8 a,b, exhibited in “Introduction to Chinese Lacquer”, December 11th 2013 to July 6th 2014. The Irving ducks differ slightly in having rather longer necks, but may, given the level of finely observed naturalism, still represent the same type of duck, but with their necks extended.

3 A RED LACQUER EIGHT-PETALLED FLOWER-SHAPED SMALL DISH Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) or Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) Diameter: 14.2 cm, 5½ inches 南宋至元 朱漆八棱花口小碟 直徑14.2釐米

The dish is of delicate construction with a broad recessed central field. The gently curved sides rise to an eight-petalled flower-shaped rim, with each pointed petal formed from alternately concave and convex grooves extending just over halfway down the sides. The central field and the interior and exterior of the sides are applied with a bright cinnabar-red lacquer, now cracked and fissured with age. The flat countersunk base is applied with glossy black lacquer, and is painted off-centre in red lacquer with a mark reading 南陽見記, nan yang jian ji. Exhibited: Eiji Nishikawa Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Chinese Ceramics and Lacquer Wares of Song Dynasty, March 2014

Between the Northern Song dynasty when, as excavations show, most lacquer was either black or two-coloured, with a black exterior and a dull brownish-red interior, and the Ming dynasty by which time cinnabar-red had become the norm, there extended a period when both glossy black and rich red lacquers were made, with the proportion of red lacquers growing over time. Again, from the Northern Song when lacquer shapes were generally quite simple, being round or gently lobed or flower-shaped, there was a trend toward shapes of more interesting outline. Based on these two trends, a dating to the thirteenth century seems appropriate for this charming small dish. There is debate about the origins of the kind of mark seen on the base of the current dish. For a Song dynasty black lacquer dish in the Freer Gallery of Art with a fourcharacter square mark, said by the author to have been added in Japan, see Hin-Cheung Lovell, “Sung and Yuan Monochrome Lacquers in the Freer Gallery”, plate 11, Fig. 22a. Certainly, this kind of mark is very different from the kinds of inscriptions found on excavated Song pieces, which follow a standard formula and are inscribed in a characteristic ductus. However, it is possible that marks like the present one were used as identifying shop marks by Song and Yuan dynasty Chinese retailers, some of whose wares would have been purchased by merchants for export to Japan. For a similar dish but with six lobes, rather than eight and with two incised characters on the base, see Lee Yu-kwan, Oriental Lacquer Art, no. 52, p. 118.


Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) or early Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) Diameter: 19.4 cm, 7⅝ inches 南宋至元早期 黑面剔犀渣斗 直徑19.4釐米

The elegant vessel is of circular section with a very compressed ovoid body resting on a low foot, supporting a widely flared, flange-like mouth, almost flat at the centre and curving gently upwards further out towards the rim. The upper surface of the mouth is carved through contrasting layers of black and red lacquer into two registers of stylized motifs, the outer ones of jianhuan (“sword pommel” or more properly “sword guard”) shape and the inner ones resembling hearts. The design is repeated on the underside of the mouth. The sides of the body are encircled by a single row of jianhuan motifs. The rim, the underside of the foot and the interior are lacquered black. Provenance: Sotheby’s Paris, 11th December 2018, lot 74 Private collection, Osaka Collection of Roger Weston, Chicago

Although ceramic zhadou of approximately this shape are found amongst the products of many Song dynasty kilns, notably the Yaozhou and qingbai kilns, it is rare to find a lacquer example, and particularly rare to find a tixi lacquer example. Perhaps the closest is the tixi vessel, described as a cupstand, illustrated by Lee Yu-kwan, Oriental Lacquer Art, no. 66, p. 132. The vessel bears the signature of Yang Mao on the base and is dated thereby to the Yuan dynasty, but may, in fact, be rather earlier. A plain black lacquer example from the Northern Song period, excavated in 1965 from a tomb at Shilipu (十里鋪), near Wuhan in Hubei province is illustrated by Hin-Cheung Lovell, “Sung and Yuan Monochrome Lacquers in the Freer Gallery”, plate 5, Fig. 5, where, interestingly, the author notes that the black colour is achieved by applying a layer of black lacquer over a layer of red lacquer. The function of the zhadou, a long-lived form, probably changed through the ages. During the Song dynasty, as can be seen from certain wall paintings, it was clearly part of a banquet setting. The quality and decoration of zhadou in all mediums was as high as the other banquet items, suggesting that its role was not considered a humble one. Most likely it would have been used for discarded wine leys, tea leaves and perhaps the occasional fish bone.

5 A BLACK LACQUERED WOOD SIX-LEGGED INCENSE STAND, XIANGJI Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) or early Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) Height: 39 cm, 15 ⅜ inches 南宋至元早期 黑漆高束腰六足圓香几 高39釐米

The stand has a circular top supported on a short waisted section. The six elegant cabriole legs rest on a low circular platform, each having a simple turned-up foot extending to a tall recurved section, below a beaded bracket-lobed apron formed from the upper part of each leg and the bracketshaped section between the tops of each pair of legs. The stand is lacquered in glossy black overall, with some woven material base showing on the underside. Provenance: Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 1st and 2nd November 1994, lot 254

Incense stands of the early date and refinement of the present example were probably made for Buddhist use. For a detail of a painting of a stand of comparable proportions, draped with a brocade cloth, from a handscroll by Wang Zhenpeng (c.1280-1329), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, see Sarah Handler, Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture, p. 296, Fig. 17.1. Compare a six-legged red lacquered wood hexagonal incense table of similar size in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, illustrated in Oriental Lacquer Art, no. 234, p. 306-307, where it is attributed to the Northern Song dynasty.

6 A BLACK LACQUER WITH CRUSHED MOTHER-OF-PEARL PRESENTATION BOX AND COVER Ming dynasty (1368-1644), 16th century Length: 46 cm, 18 inches Width: 28.2 cm, 11⅛ inches Height: 11.5 cm, 4 ½ inches 明十六世紀 黑漆撒螺鈿長方盒子 長46釐米 寬28.2釐米 高11.5釐米

The box is of generous rectangular form, with cover and base meeting at a pair of broad fillet borders. The cover is slightly taller than the base is deep, with curved cushion-like sides rising to a raised flat top of conforming shape. The base, with an internal flange for holding the cover, rests on four low elongated L-shaped feet connected by a shallow bracket-lobed apron. The exterior is covered evenly overall with a coating of lacquer mixed with large-grained crushed mother-of-pearl, now suffused with parallel craquelure. The interior and the underside of the base are lacquered black.

This rare box is of a small family of similarly decorated pieces dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including boxes, as here, and items of furniture like tables, and cabinets. For an example of the former, see the table from the Biegucang collection offered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8th April 2009, lot 1625, and for an example of the latter, see 大漆家具 “Classical Chinese Lacquered Furniture”, no. 42, p. 226-227. The use of crushed mother-of-pearl mixed with lacquer as the sole decoration is very striking, giving the items an attractive coruscating appearance that is nevertheless extremely durable. The form of this box is closely paralleled by imperial porcelain boxes of the Jiajing and, particularly, Wanli reigns of the later Ming dynasty. Such boxes, and perhaps the present box as well, would have been used for the presentation of imperial gifts, with the intention that the boxes themselves be returned back to the palace, perhaps containing a small gift of gratitude. The cushion-shaped sides probably derive their form from panels of extremely fine basketwork, as seen, for example, on the sides of the Wanli dated tray, number 9 in the present exhibition. A very similar example of the use of the crushed mother-of-pearl technique can be seen on the border of the table screen in this catalogue, no. 13.

7 A LOBED HEXAGONAL CINNABAR LACQUER DAOIST FIGURAL DISH Ming dynasty (1368-1644), 16th century Length: 22.3 cm, 8 ¾ inches 明十六世紀 剔紅群仙拱壽圖六棱長方盤 長22.3釐米

The dish is of elongated lobed hexagonal form raised on a high foot. The central field of conforming shape is deeply carved with a scene of three of the Eight Immortals, Zhongli Quan (鍾離權) with his combined fan and flywhisk, Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓) with his sword, and Li Tieguai (李鐵拐) with his crutch and gourd, standing beneath a pine tree on the rocky bank of a river with rolling and crested waves, making obeisance to Shou Lao (壽老), the God of Longevity, who is arriving on the back of a swooping crane. The background to the scene is carved with a florette-in-diamond diaper pattern. The well of the dish is carved with a frieze of fruiting and flowering sprays on an ochre ground, including pomegranate, persimmon, lychee, lotus, grape and peach. The exterior is carved with panels of lingzhi and narcissus, prunus and camellia. The base is lacquered brown-black. Provenance: Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 29th November 2019, lot 640 An old Hong Kong family collection

This rare dish belongs to a group of middle-to-late Ming period lacquers whose shapes hark back to the innovative forms of the Yuan dynasty lacquermakers. For a Yuan dynasty example of the same shape, see 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, no. 37, p. 84. The decorative subject of the dish, a scene of the Eight Immortals, or some sub-group of them, making obeisance to Shou Lao arriving on a crane, is a venerable one. See, for example, the kesi panel woven with an early variant group of Immortals, in the Palace Museum, Taipei, exhibited in 緙絲特展 “Kesi Tezhan – Special Exhibition of Kesi Weaving” in 2002, to which is attributed a Song dynasty date. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer tray showing the same scene but with all eight Immortals. It is dated to the 16th century, accession no. 2006.238. For a dish of similar shape and size, but with a garden scene, see

see Lee Yu-kwan, Oriental Lacquer Art, no. 108, p. 177.


Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) or early Ming dynasty (1368-1644), 13th-15th century Height: 84 cm, 33½ inches Width: 63.5 cm, 25 inches Depth: 55.9 cm, 22 inches 元至明早期 黑漆香几 高84釐米 寬63.5釐米 深55.9釐米

The stand is well proportioned with an almost square top with raised moulded “drip edge” above a recessed high waist with pierced taohuan panels with red-lacquered beading, all above the widely flared “cloud collar” apron, also with red-lacquered beading. The four cabriole legs taper to sharply upturned points, supported on small red-lacquered blocks on a base of conforming shape with a shaped apron and four scroll feet.

The generous proportions and harmonious interplay between the square forms of the top and base and the dynamic “S” shapes of the legs are characteristic of the lacquerwork of Shanxi province. Curtis Evarts, in “New Directions in Chinese Furniture Connoisseurship: Early Traditional Furniture”, illustrates a very similar example to the present stand, p. 54, fig. 7, from the collection of C. L. Ma, Beijing, dateable to between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The author also shows a Yuan dynasty woodblock print in which a comparable incense stand appears. The same stand is illustrated and further discussed in Curtis Evarts, C. L. Ma Collection: Traditional Chinese Furniture from the Greater Shanxi Region, cat. no. 97. The apron on the present stand is of “cloud collar” form. The “cloud collar” is a symbol of ancient origin representing through its four shaped projections the extents of “heaven” in the four directions. Combined with the square elements of the top and base, representing “earth”, the whole stand represents the entire cosmos: very fitting for the burning of fine incense placed in a censer in the middle of the top. For a discussion of the “cloud collar”, see Schuyler Cammann, “The Symbolism of the Cloud Collar Motif” in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 1-9.


Ming dynasty, Wanli mark and period, dated to yimao year, 1615 Length: 45.6 cm, 18 inches Width 28.8 cm, 11⅜ inches 明萬曆乙卯 編竹邊描金漆長方盤 長45.6釐米 寬28.8釐米

The tray is of rectangular form with slightly indented corners. The main field, of conforming shape, is decorated in miaojin (“gold-traced”) technique combined with litharge pigments on an overall rich red ground with a scene of a banner-waving horseman galloping out from among rocks with a distant pavilion beyond, towards a pair of officials seated at a table on a rocky plateau with wutong trees, attended to by their four servants. The cavetto of the tray is decorated on the inside in gold on a dark-brown ground with shaped panels of flowers on a hatched ground, and on the outside is revealed the fine bamboo basketware construction. The base is undecorated, inscribed in the centre in two columns 萬曆乙卯 Wanli yimao (corresponding to 1615) and 徐静軒贈 Xu Jingxuan zeng (“gifted by Xu Jingxuan”). Provenance: MD Flacks Ltd J.J. Lally & Co.

For a polychrome lacquer tray made in the same year of Wanli, 1615, with a scene depicting a dignitary presenting wine to an arriving scholar, also set in a background of rocks and trees, see Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 30th October 1991, lot 343. Another similar tray, from the Tianqi period, with a date corresponding to 1624, from the collection of Sir Harry and Lady Garner, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and is illustrated by R. Soame Jenyns and William Watson in Chinese Art. Gold, Silver, Later Bronzes, Cloisonné, Cantonese Enamels, Lacquer, Furniture, Wood, no. 140 and discussed on p. 88. The authors suggest an area of manufacture in the south of China.

10 A RED LACQUERED LOW SIDE TABLE WITH EVERTED FLANGES, QIAOTOU’AN Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Length: 137 cm, 54 inches Width: 48.2 cm, 19 inches Height: 40.6 cm, 16 inches 明 紅漆翹頭案 長137釐米 寬48.2釐米 高40.6釐米

The table is of low rectangular form with a stout single plank top terminating in everted flanges with scrolled tips, above a plain apron with cloud-head spandrels. The legs are formed from solid panels, each pierced with a shaped aperture and with a bracketed lower edge, resting on transverse stretchers. The exterior and sides of the table are applied with a rich red lacquer coating of pinkish tone. The underside of the table is lacquered black.

Tables like the present one, with everted flanges, are known from earliest times. For an example of a small Spring and Autumn period (772-481 BC) table, excavated from a tomb in Hubei, see Sarah Handler, “Side Tables, a Surface for Treasures and the Gods” in Chinese Furniture, Selected Articles from Orientations 1984-2003, p. 200. The author notes that side tables, often placed against a wall, were used for displaying treasured possessions or, less frequently than is often supposed, as altar tables. A related table from the Biegucang collection, lacking the everted flanges and of more geometric design, was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8th April 2009, lot 1621. For a black lacquered table from the Shanxi region with a comparable profile, dated to the fifteenth or sixteenth century, see 大漆家具 “Classical Chinese Lacquered Furniture”, no. 29, p. 166-167.

11 AN UNUSUAL TWELVE-PANEL COROMANDEL LACQUER SCREEN Qing dynasty, Kangxi Period (1662-1722) Each panel: Height: 263 cm, 103 inches Width: 48.2 cm, 19 inches 清康熙 款彩十二扇屏風 個扇: 高263釐米 寬48.2釐米

The twelve panels comprising the front of the screen share a border of baskets and vases of flowers, and bogu tu antiques, between an outer band of chi dragons and an inner band of archaistic scrollwork. Within this common border the panels are discontinuous, superbly carved and filled with colour in the kuancai technique with a variety of scenes, including one with ladies in a palace, two with horsemen in a landscape, three with scenes of Daoist imagery, four with birds amid flowers and rockwork, and two end panels with further bogu tu antiques. The reverse is undecorated, later painted with simulated Chinese characters and numbered in sequence I – XII. Provenance: Christie’s New York, 22nd November 2011, lot 51 Northrop Grumman Corporation Collection Acquired from Mallett, New York in the 1980s

Various suggestions have been made to explain the make-up of this screen. One is that some panels – the ones with birds – have been reversed and were originally back panels, but this fails to explain the different types of scenes on the remainder of the panels. Another is that it was a “sampler” screen, so that prospective purchasers could choose which type of imagery they preferred. Or perhaps, originally, the current twelve panels were selected from a pair of screens. Whatever the explanation, it is clear from the consistent high quality of the carving and the common border that the panels began life together, and still make a remarkably handsome, if enigmatic, coromandel screen.

12 A RARE COROMANDEL LACQUER DOCUMENT BOX Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722) Length: 34.9 cm, 13 ¾ inches 清康熙 款彩帖盒 長34.9釐米

The box is of characteristic rectangular form fitted with brass hinges at the back and a simple rectangular brass escutcheon with ruyi-shaped hasp at the front. The top is decorated in kuancai technique, carved into the dark brown lacquer and then filled with different colours, with a scene from the Romance of the Western Chamber (西廂記) showing the scholar Zhang Sheng (張生) dressed in red on a white horse, accompanied by his page, beneath a window in a storied building at which sit Cui Yingying (崔英英) and her maid Hongniang (紅娘). The scene is set amid blue rockwork and leafy willow trees, all within a keyfret border. The sides of the box are carved with antiques from the bogu tu and flowering sprigs. Provenance: Christie’s South Kensington, 13th May 2011, lot 1105

During the Kangxi period, The Romance of the Western Chamber, Xixiang Ji (西廂記), a Yuan dynasty drama by Wang Shifu (王實甫), was an endlessly popular source of imagery for the decoration of porcelain, but it is rare to find scenes from it used to decorate a document box, as here. Such boxes were used not only for storing letters, but also for passing them, suggesting that the choice of the Xixiang Ji might have been considered wittily appropriate, as letters feature importantly in the plot of the drama. Kuancai was much the most popular technique for the decoration of large many-panelled screens, like no. 11 in this catalogue, but it is rare to find it used on smaller scholarly items like the present document box.

13 A CRUSHED MOTHER-OF-PEARL BORDERED INLAID LACQUER DOUBLE-SIDED TABLE SCREEN Late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) or early Qing dynasty (1644-1911) Length: 56 cm, 22 inches Height 53 cm, 20 ⅞ inches 黑漆撒螺鈿邊嵌百寶紋插屏 長56釐米 高53釐米

The panel of the screen is of rectangular form in landscape orientation. The front is decorated on a black lacquer ground with inlay of motherof-pearl, stained bone, lacquer and different woods showing a branch of flowering and fruiting pomegranate beside a ruyi sceptre tied with a ribbon and sprig of fruiting persimmon. The reverse is boldly decorated using bamboo skin, depicting a leafy bamboo stem, also on a black lacquer ground. The frame of the panel is applied with black lacquer mixed with crushed mother-of-pearl, continuing onto the rest of the frame, comprising a taohuan (縧環) panel pierced with a single elongated aperture, an angled apron, stout transverse feet and four scrolled zhanya (站牙) spandrels.

Table screens like the present example were part of the standard furnishings of a scholar’s studio, and appear in numerous Ming and early Qing paintings and wood block prints. An example by Xie Huan (謝環), entitled Xingyuan Yaji Tu (Elegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden) dated 1437, of which two copies exist, one in the Zhenjiang Municipal Museum and one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, shows a table screen placed across the far end of a painting table set with scholars’ accoutrements. For a double-sided screen like the present one, with crushed mother-of-pearl borders, showing branches of flowers on the front and bamboo on the reverse, see Zhu Jiajin, Le Mobilier Chinois. Époque Ming (13681644), no. 200, p. 248. A second, smaller screen is also illustrated in the same volume, no. 201. Both screens are in the Qing court collection, and are dated to the early Qing period.

14 A MOTHER-OF-PEARL INLAID GOLD LACQUER PEACH-SHAPED CUP Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722) Length: 11.8 cm, 4 ⅝ inches 清康熙 嵌螺鈿金漆壽桃形杯 長11.8釐米

The cup is modelled in the shape of a halved peach, with the handle formed from a gnarled brown-lacquered stem. Two long leaves decorated in finely crushed mother-of-pearl extend from the base of the handle to form a shallow foot for the cup. The exterior is decorated on a gold lacquered ground with motherof-pearl of graduated thickness to show different colours, with five bats in flight amid clouds, beneath a chequered diaper band around the rim. The interior is fitted with a metal liner. Provenance: Christie’s London, “Arts of the Carver: Chinese Works of Art from an Important European Collection”, 5th November 2013, lot 103 Exhibited: “The Arts of the Ch’ing Dynasty”, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1964, no. 381 Published: Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1963-1964, vol. 35, London, 1965, p. 75, no. 381, pl. 121 It is rare to find gold lacquer used as a ground for mother-of-pearl inlay instead of the usual black, and adds an extra degree of sumptuousness. Cups like this would probably have been made in sets for use in drinking games during social gatherings. The favourite drink of the educated classes was yellow wine, made from high quality glutinous rice.

15 A PAIR OF CARVED CINNABAR LACQUER MILLE FLEUR PATTERN INCENSE BOXES AND COVERS Qing dynasty (1644-1911), 18th/19th century Diameter of each: 7 cm, 2 ¾ inches 十八/十九世紀 剔紅萬花紋香盒一對 直徑7釐米

The boxes are each of zimu (字母) form, having a shallow domed cover secured on the similarly shaped base by a low internal flange. The exteriors of the covers and bases are entirely carved with a dense mille fleur pattern of flowering prunus, with tiny five-petalled blooms borne on branching stems. The interiors are lacquered black. Provenance: English private collection

The present boxes represent the continuation of a type of shallow domed lacquer incense box going as far back as the fifteenth century. They would have contained pieces of scented wood or powdered incense. An example of a similarly densely carved mille fleur lacquer box, dated to the eighteenth century is illustrated in Im Zeichen Des Drachen: Von Der Schönheit Chinesischer Lacke, no. 88, p. 182.

16 FOUR LACQUER AND GILT-BRONZE CALLIGRAPHY PANELS Early Qing dynasty (1644-1912), 17th/18th century Height of each: 66 cm, 25 ¾ inches Width: 42 cm, 16 ½ inches 清早期,十七/十八世紀 黑漆嵌銅 [兩都賦序]四條掛屏 高66釐米 寬42釐米

Each panel is of upright rectangular form, with a central field of conforming shape, set on a black lacquer ground with three columns of six gilt-bronze characters in lishu (clerical script), within spandrels of painted gilt scrollwork. The frames are of complex construction, with raised inner and outer bands in reddish-brown lacquer with gilt painted formal borders, linked across a recessed intermediate zone by four stylized bats between pierced brackets. Each has a pierced bronze ruyi shaped bracket for suspension. Provenance: Sotheby’s Paris, 14 June 2007, lot 77

The texts are taken from the preface to the Liangdu Fu 兩都賦 (The Rhapsody of the Two Capitals), by the Eastern Han historian and poet Ban Gu 班固 (32-92), known particularly for his involvement in the compiling of the Han Shu (Book of Han). These four panels represent two pairs of contiguous texts, with a gap of eighteen characters in between the pairs, suggesting that there was at least one other panel in the set, and probably three, or even more if the whole text of the preface of the Liangdu Fu was to be transcribed. The Qianlong emperor had a deep appreciation for the work of Ban Gu. The emperor’s collection of paintings and calligraphy, compiled over a period of seventy-four years, was called the Shiqu Baoji 石 渠寳笈 (The Precious Book-box of the Stone Conduit), a name

which alludes directly to the Shiqu Ge 石渠閣 (Pavilion of the Stone Conduit), the imperial library of the Western Han dynasty, used as a place for discussion of the classics. Ban Gu refers to the Shiqu Ge in the Liangdu Fu.


Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722) Height: 29 cm, 11 ½ inches 清康熙 黑漆嵌螺鈿呂洞賓圖插屏 高29釐米

The screen comprises a detachable upright rectangular panel fitting into a stand. The panel is decorated on the front in mother-ofpearl cut to graduated thicknesses to produce different colours, and with finely crushed mother-of-pearl, with a scene of the Daoist Immortal Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓) seated by a willow tree, his sword at his back. His helper, the former willow tree spirit Guo Ma’er (郭嘛 兒), recognizable by the willow sprig sprouting from his head, walks towards his master, holding a ewer of wine. The reverse is inscribed in similar technique with a two-line couplet, with two seals, reading zhu and yuanfu. The stand has two side posts supported by scrolled zhanya spandrels and a taohuan panel pierced with three apertures, above a bracketedged apron and transverse block feet, all finely inlaid in mother-of-pearl with florettes and diaper patterns. Provenance: Private collection, London

The story of Lü Dongbin and Guo Ma’er comes from a Yuan play by the famous dramatist Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1325) called Yueyang San Zui(岳陽三醉)in which the famous Immortal encourages the spirit of a willow tree growing by the Yueyang Tower to be educated into the ways of the Dao, during which the spirit is reborn as a boy called Guo Ma’er. For a set of five panels in the Hebei Cultural Provincial Bureau, of similar size and format to the present panel, each with poems on the back bearing a seal in mother-of-pearl, reading qian li, for the famous mother-of-pearl lacquer master Jiang Qianli, see Littleton and Hennessy, The Luxury of Chinese Lacquer, March 2010, catalogue no. 16, fig. 31. The two seals on the present panel together reading Zhu Yuanfu 柱元甫 are similarly placed, and may therefore also perhaps

be the name of the lacquer master who made the panel.

18 A GILT-PAINTED DARK-BROWN LACQUER DRUM-SHAPED STOOL Mid-Qing dynasty, 18th century Height: 46 cm, 18 inches 清中期,十八世紀 褐漆描金五福紋高束腰鼓式圓凳 高46釐米

The stool is of lightweight gutui pengya (鼓腿彭牙) construction, having a convex apron and five outwardly curved legs together making the form of a drum. The zigzag-bordered disc-shaped top is painted in gold with a design of five bats around a central medallion, above a narrow waist pierced with openwork apertures. The apron, with “cloud heads” above each leg and between each leg is painted with stylized flowers and foliage. The five bowed legs each have a central boss painted with a bat. The inturned scroll feet are supported on balls evenly spaced around the perimeter of the circular stretcher, painted with stylized scrollwork. Provenance: French private collection

For a five-legged lacquered drum-shaped stool dating rather earlier, to the Ming dynasty, set on top with a cloisonné panel, see the furniture section of the Palace Museum database, at gear/229329. The stool, applied with the same kind of crushed motherof-pearl lacquer seen on catalogue items 6 and 13, shows the same proportions and waisted construction as the present stool. A label to the base of the stool reads: “T et Cie, Paris, 455”.

19 A PAIR OF GILT-DECORATED BLACK LACQUER DISPLAY CABINETS, BOGU GE Mid-Qing dynasty, 18th century Height of each: 174 cm, 68 ½ inches. Width: 88.8 cm, 35 inches 清中期,十八世紀 黑漆描金博古格一對 高174釐米. 寬88.8釐米

The cabinets form a mirror pair. The first cabinet is of upright rectangular shape with ten areas for the display of antiques or books, asymmetrically arranged, some open and some enclosed, partitioned from neighbouring areas in a variety of ways. At the upper right is an enclosed square compartment fitted at the back with a rounded rectangular panel of glass, in the middle is a pair of drawers with fretwork fronts, and at the bottom left is an enclosed compartment with a channel for a sliding door at the front, the door now missing. The cabinet is mostly open to back and sides, and there are several apertures between compartments, of various shapes including circles and flowers. The compartments are fitted on their open sides with carved wood spandrels and elaborate borders, some in openwork, of different designs, including clouds, bamboo and archaistic scrollwork. The surfaces are painted in gilt with some red highlights, with floral vignettes, and the structural members are painted with flowers and stylized scrolls. An openwork chilong pattern apron connects the four feet. The second cabinet is of identical construction but with right exchanged for left in all details. Provenance: German private collection

These remarkable display cabinets are a tour-de-force of the lacquermaker’s art. Early examples of this type of cabinet were designed – as here – for palace use, and represent a uniquely Qing approach to the display of treasured items, ensuring that each item is shown to its best advantage. Going by various names, perhaps most commonly bogu ge 博古格 , “antiques cabinets” as used here, or duobao ge 多寳閣, “many treasure cabinets”, they were referred to by the Yongzheng emperor as baobei ge 寳貝格, “treasure cabinets”. While the overall shape remains consistent over time, the arrangement of shelves and compartments tends to simplify, with fewer apertures connecting the various areas and with more examples only open to the front. The cupboard area, which in the present examples is a compartment on the bottom level, grows in later versions of the form, eventually taking up most of the lower half of the display area. That the development of bogu ge had already developed quite far by the time of the Yongzheng emperor (r. 1723-1735) can be seen from the form of the cabinet visible in the background of one of the album leaves of the Yinzhen Xingle Tu

胤禛行樂圖 (“Images of the Emperor Yongzheng at leisure”), in the Palace Museum,

showing the emperor dressed in non-imperial robes, warming his feet at a brazier while reading a book. The fine-looking cabinet, apparently gilt-decorated on a brown lacquer ground, is filled with books and antiques, and has a large two-door cupboard taking up most of its lower part. All bogu ge are different, but perhaps the closest to the present pair of cabinets in terms of the arrangement of shelves and compartments is a zitan cabinet in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, which also has some gilt-decorated black lacquer decoration to the interior of the compartments and also a variety of pierced border frames and spandrels. The cabinet is dated to the mid-Qing period and is illustrated in 明清家具.故 宫博物馆藏文物珍品大系 “Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (II). The Complete

Collection of Treasure of the Palace Museum”, no. 216, p. 254.


Japan, Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603), 16th century Diameter: 16 cm, 6 ¼ inches 日本安士桃山時代 (1573-1603), 十六世紀 白檀塗六棱葵花式盞托 直徑16釐米

The bowl stand is of Chinese form, with a bowl-shaped holder, a wide six-lobed hibiscus-flower shaped flange and a flared foot. The outside of the bowl holder, the underside of the flange and the outside of the foot are decorated in byakudan-nuri (白檀塗) technique, using gold foil and powder beneath a tinted clear lacquer, with a semi-abstract design of petals or clouds on a gold ground. The upper side of the flange and the inside of the bowl and foot are applied with a pinkish red lacquer. For a very closely related example in the Los Angeles County Museum, see Lee Yu-kwan, Oriental Lacquer Art, no. 156, p. 222.


Ryukyu Islands, 18th century Diameter: 26.5 cm, 10 ½ inches 琉球,十八世紀 紅漆描金人物圖盤 直徑26.5釐米

The dish is of circular form resting on a high pierced foot. The central field is finely painted in gilt on a rich red ground with areas and detailing in coloured litharge with a scene of a scholar setting out on a journey. Two servants accompany him, carrying a cloth-wrapped qin and portable furniture, and two others see him off with boxed gifts. Behind the figures are a house with bracketed eaves and a balustraded garden with rocks and a pine tree. The shallow well of the dish is painted with a frieze of temples and houses set among trees and mountains, below the slightly concave everted rim, painted with a “Y”-diaper pattern and bound with a narrow metal band. The underside is plain, supported on the high foot painted with a hexagonal diaper pattern and pierced with elongated apertures. The footrim is also bound with metal.

The techniques of painting used to decorate the present dish derive from the Chinese technique of qiangjin (戧金), which was introduced to the Ryukyu Islands in the fifteenth century where it continued to be used until the nineteenth century. The qiangjin technique additionally employs light carving, but the painted version, as here, appears to have begun in China in the late sixteenth century, with the earliest examples being the basketry pieces such as the one in this catalogue dated to 1615, catalogue no. 9. The high-footed dish is particular to the Ryukyu Islands. A dish of this type, with decoration of gilt and litharge on red lacquer, is in the Los Angeles County Museum, gift of Mr and Mrs Leo Krashen, M.80.109.2. Another example using the same technique and with an identical shape to the upper dish section, though slightly smaller, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, illustrated by Garner in Chinese Lacquer, no. 150 and dated to the first half of the seventeenth century. This piece is speculatively given a Ryukyuan origin.

22 A MOTHER-OF-PEARL INLAID BROWN LACQUER SQUARE DISH Ryukyu Islands, 18th or 19th century 18.2 cm, 7 ¼ inches square 琉球, 十八或十九世紀 褐漆嵌螺鈿錦文方盤 18.2 x 18.2釐米

The dish is finely made, of square form with slightly indented corners. The central field is of conforming shape, in plain chestnut brown lacquer. The widely flared broad rim is decorated in mother-of-pearl on the same colour of brown lacquer with an overall design of overlapping triangular areas filled with different types of diaper pattern, including circle diaper, hexagonal diaper, “Y”-diaper and a kind of reverse circular diaper at the corners. At each apex is a daisy-like flower. The reverse is decorated with different kinds of stylized flowers on scrolling feathery stems. The base is also lacquered brown.

Mother-of-pearl was one of the most important materials used in the manufacture of Ryukyuan lacquer, which is thought to have begun as early as the 15th century (for a detailed discussion, see Tokugawa Yoshinobu, 琉球漆工藝, “Lacquer of the Ryūkyūs”). In the report made by Ishizawa Hyugō in 1889 (and summarised by Garner in Ryūkyū Lacquer) drawings of sixty pieces are reproduced which dated from 1714 to 1869 and of which 37 are of black lacquer inlaid with mother-of-pearl. This dish exhibits several features borrowed from Chinese lacquers including the square shape with indented corners. For a Chinese example of this shape, dating to the Song dynasty, see Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, Catalogue of Selected Masterpieces from the Nezu Collections, Decorative Art, no. 188, p. 160. For a Ryukyu example of a square dish, but larger and decorated with gilt, lacquer and litharge painting rather than mother-of-pearl, see the example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from the Florence and Herbert Irving Collection illustrated in East Asian Lacquer, no. 175, p. 366. The motifs are also Chinese in origin. The flower and leaf scroll design on the underside can also be found on a Wanli box dated 1606 in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland illustrated by Dr Hu Shih-chang, in Chinese Lacquer, no. 43, p. 73. Tokugawa Yoshinobu illustrates a Ryukyuan mother-of-pearl inlaid bowl stand with almost identical flower and leaf pattern, no. 85, and a similar one, no. 83. The latter is paired with a Southern Song oil-spot bowl and has gold pigment on the rim. It is accompanied by a document showing that the bowl and stand were presented to the Ryōkō-in subtemple of Daitoku-ji in 1604.

S elected B ibliography

Schuyler Cammann, “The Symbolism of the Cloud Collar Motif”, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 1, (Mar 1951) pp. 1-9

Monika Kopplin ed, Im Zeichen Des Drachen: Von Der Schönheit Chinesischer Lacke (Münster, 2006)

Chen Zhenyu 陈振裕, Zhongguo Qiqi Quanji 1. Xian Qin 中国漆器全集 1. 先秦 “The Complete Works of Chinese Lacquer Ware. 1. Pre-Qin” (Beijing, 1997)

George Kuwayama, Far Eastern Lacquer (Los Angeles, 1982) Peter Y.K. Lam ed, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer (Hong Kong, 1993)

Curtis Evarts, C. L. Ma Collection: Traditional Chinese Furniture from the Greater Shanxi Region (Hong Kong, 1999)

Lee King Tsi and Hu Shih Chang, Drache und Phoenix (Cologne, 1990)

Sir Harry Garner, Chinese Lacquer (London, 1979)

Lee Yu-kuan, Oriental Lacquer Art (Tokyo, 1972)

Harry M. Garner, Ryukyu Lacquer (London, 1972)

Liu Chuansheng 刘传生, Da Qi Jiaju 大漆家具 “Classical Chinese Lacquered Furniture” (Beijing, 2012)

Sarah Handler, Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture (Berkeley, 2001) Sarah Handler, “Side Tables, a Surface for Treasures and the Gods”, Chinese Furniture, Selected Articles from Orientations 1984-2003 (Hong Kong, 2004) Hu Shi-chang, Chinese Lacquer (Edinburgh, 1998) R. Soame Jenyns and William Watson, Chinese Art. Gold, Silver, Later Bronzes, Cloisonné, Cantonese Enamels, Lacquer, Furniture, Wood (London, 1963)

Hin-Cheung Lovell, “Sung and Yuan Monochrome Lacquers in the Freer Gallery”, Ars Orientalis, Vol. 9, Freer Gallery of Art Fiftieth Anniversary Volume (1973), pp. 121-130 Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, Catalogue of Selected Masterpieces from the Nezu Collections, Decorative Art (Tokyo, 2001) Tang Rensheng, Lacquer Wares of the Chu Kingdom (Hong Kong, 1992)

Wang Shixiang 王世襄 and Zhu Jiajin 朱家溍 eds, Zhongguo Meishu Quanji. Gongyi Meishubian 8 Qiqi 中国美术全 集. 工藝美術编 8 漆器. “The Complete Collection of Chinese Art. Crafts 8 Lacquer” (Beijing, 1989) James C. Y. Watt and Barbara Brennan Ford eds, East Asian Lacquer. The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection. (New York, 1991) Yang Zhigang ed. 杨志刚, Qian Wen Wan Hua. Zhongguo Li Dai Qiqi Yishu 千文万华. 中国历代漆器艺术 “In a Myriad of Forms: The Ancient Chinese Lacquers” (Shanghai, 2018) Zhu Jiajin 朱家溍, Zhongguo Qiqi Quanji 5. Ming. 中国漆器全集 5. 明 “The Complete Works of Chinese Lacquer Ware. 5 Ming” (Beijing, 1995) Zhu Jiajin 朱家溍, Ming Qing Jiaju. Gugong Bowuguan Cang Wenwu Zhenpin Daxi 明清家 具.故宫博物馆藏文物珍品大系 “Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (II). The Complete Collection of Treasure of the Palace Museum” (Beijing, 2002) Zhu Jiajin, Le Mobilier Chinois. Époque Ming (1368-1644) (Paris, 2006)

C hronology

Neolithic Period

circa 6500 - 1900 B.C.


circa 1500 - 1050 B.C.

Zhou Western Zhou Spring and Autumn Period Warring States Period Qin Han Western Han Eastern Han

1050 - 221 B.C. 1050 - 771 B.C. 770 - 475 B.C. 475 - 221 B.C. 221 - 207 B.C. 206 B.C. - A.D. 220 206 B.C. - A.D. 9 A.D. 25 - 220

Three Kingdoms Period Jin Western Jin Eastern Jin

221 - 280 265 - 420 265 - 316 317 - 420

Sixteen Kingdoms Period

304 - 439

Northern Dynasties Period Northern Wei Eastern Wei Western Wei Northern Qi Northern Zhou Southern Dynasties Period

386 - 581 386 - 535 534 - 550 535 - 557 550 - 577 557 - 581 420 - 589

Sui Tang Liao Five Dynasties Period Jin

581 - 618 618 - 906 907 - 1125 907 - 960 1115 - 1234

Song Northern Song Southern Song

960 -1279 960 -1127 1127 - 1279

Yuan Ming Qing

1279 - 1368 1368 -1644 1644 - 1911

Our thanks to Andy Smart for the photography, Peter Keenan for the design, Richard Harris for the repro.

P riestley & F erraro chinese art 3 Bury Street, St James’s London SW1Y 6AB Tel: +44 (0) 20 7930 6228

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