A mother-of-pearl inlaid brown lacquer square dish

琉球, 十八或十九世紀  褐漆嵌螺鈿錦文方盤

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 Ryu¯kyu¯s). In the report made by Ishizawa Hyugo¯ in 1889 (and summarised by Garner in Ryu¯kyu¯ 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 Ryo¯ko¯-in subtemple of Daitoku-ji in 1604.


Dimensions: 18.2 cm, 7 ¼ inches square

Date: Ryukyu Islands, 18th or 19th century

Stock No. 2099

Price: On Request