A black lacquer with crushed mother-of-pearl presentation box and cover

明十六世紀   黑漆撒螺鈿長方盒子

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 Sothebys 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.

Dimensions: Length: 46 cm, 18 inches; Width: 28.2 cm, 11⅛ inches; Height: 11.5 cm, 4 ½ inches

Date: Ming dynasty (1368-1644), 16th century

Stock No. 2283

Price: On Request