A red and green lacquer indented-corner square dish

明 約弘治  剔紅宴遊圖委角方盤

The square dish with indented corners has a wide, flat centre and low, curved sides. The decoration, vigorously carved through the dark red lacquer to a green base layer beneath, consists of an elaborate overall scene of scholars on horseback making their way over bridges to a large pavilion in a lake. Some have attendants seated behind them, in one case holding a parasol, and some have their attendants trotting alongside carrying yokes of belongings, or qin. Inside the pavilion a group of scholars sit around a table, with two attendants. On the balcony above, four scholars look out at the arriving guests. The roadway is carved with a bold diamond-and-floret “earth” diaper, the lake is carved with a humped-wave “water” diaper in green, and the sky is carved with an interrupted linear “air” diaper, also in green. Mountains appear in the background, below a group of cranes flying towards the roof of the pavilion. The reverse is carved with four chi  dragons amid foliage, above a narrow petal border.

Sotheby’s London, 10th May 2017, lot 140
Sotheby’s Hong Kong, ‘The Baoyizhai Collection of Chinese Lacquer, Part 2’, 8th October 2014, lot 3218

2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong, Hong Kong, 1993, no. 73
Layered Beauty: The Baoyizhai Collection of Chinese LacquerArt Museum, Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2010, cat. no. 47

A number of related lacquers are extant, all characterised by the vigour of their carving. They are variously ascribed dates from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. Perhaps the closest to the present dish is an indented corner square dish offered for sale in Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 4th April 2012, lot 3147, given a sixteenth century date. Although different in shape, an octagonal box in the Linden Museum, Stuttgart, illustrated in Im Zeichen Des Drachen: Von Der Schönheit Chinesischer Lacke, no. 50, p. 127, is carved in a markedly similar style, and is dated to the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century; while another related box, in the British Museum, illustrated by Clifford, Chinese Carved Lacquer, pl. 61, p. 88, dated to the Hongzhi period, features a procession of mounted scholars. The dating of the British Museum box mentioned above is by reference to the famous large dish, also in the British Museum, decorated with the Orchid Pavilion of Prince Tang, dated to 1489 and signed by Wang Ming of Pingliang, a place in Gansu. It is illustrated, for example, by Clifford, Chinese Carved Lacquer, pl. 58, p. 85. The dish is an important landmark, as no pieces in the post-Xuande period bearing reign marks are known until the accession of the Jiajing emperor in 1522. Whilst of more robust construction, the present dish shares several features of this famous dish: the use of more than one colour; the dominating presence of an architecturally elaborate building; and an interest in the dynamic relations between the figures in the scene. Additionally, there are a number of  similarities in the detailing of the carving, particularly the clouds and rocks.
The scene depicted may be based on the Western Han story, Zouma Zhangtai Jie“Riding through Zhangtai Street” about Emperor Xuan’s official Zhang Cheng (91-49 B.C.), who rode through the thoroughfare, notorious for its pleasure houses, after an audience with the emperor. A large table screen decorated with a more elaborate version of the same scene, and also dated to the Hongzhi period, was sold in Christie’s Hong Kong, ‘Important Lacquer from the Lee Family Collection, Part II’, 1st December 2009, lot 1827.

Dimensions: 7.3 x 7.3 x 3 cm

Date: Ming dynasty (1368-1644), perhaps Hongzhi period (1487-1505)

Stock No. 2209

Price: On Request