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Lacquer box

Lacquer box

  • Place of origin:

    China (made)

  • Date:

    1403-1424 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved lacquer on wood

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The red colour of this early 15th-century box was achieved by using cinnabar as a colouring agent. The complex landscape design was created by building up many layers of lacquer and then carving them.

Lacquer was a craft from East Asia. Chinese workers had been tapping the sap of the lacquer tree from about 3000 BC. The filtered and purified lacquer was then applied to a base, usually of wood, and coloured.

Physical description

This intricately carved red lacquer box is circular in form. The box is straight-sided, with a flat-topped cover of the same height fitting over a vertical flange. The sides and top are covered with a thick coating of cinnabar-red lacquer carved with designs, the remaining surfaces with a thin brown lacquer. The top is carved deeply with a landscape and figure design. In the centre, an aged pine tree rises above a pavilion giving on to a balustraded terrace, surrounded by gnarled rocks and trees; to the left promontories beyond with more rocks and trees give on to water, with islands in the distance, and large, formalised clouds above. Sky, water and terrace are represented by finely-carved diaper grounds. In the pavilion a scholar is seen slumped at the table while a servant holds a wine-bottles; on the terrace, a visitor accompanied by his servant makes his departure. Borders encircling the outside of the box and cover are carved with an identical series of flower sprays, ten in number, as follows (reading from right to lift): lotus; camellia; chrysanthemum; gardenia; peony; pomegranate; peony; a form of jasmine; an autumn flower; mallow.
The reign-mark 'Da Ming Yong Le Nian Zhi' is written vertically on the base at the left close to the foot, with a fine point.

Place of Origin

China (made)


1403-1424 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved lacquer on wood


Diameter: 27 cm

Object history note

Acquired by the vendors in Japan.

For similar pieces with landscape designs, the box in the Freer Gallery, Washington (Sir Harry Garner, ''Technical Studies of Oriental Lacquer'' in Studies in Conservation, vol.8 no.3, Aug 1963, fig.3), and in the former Sedgwick Collection (Sotheby Sale Catalogue, 2nd July 1968, Iot.66; formerly in the Norton Collection); also the box-top belonging to Marcus Linell (Garner, ''Diaper Backgrounds on Chinese Garved Lacquer'' in Ars Orientalis, VI, 1966,plI). See also Fritz Low-Beer, ''Chinese Lacquer of the Early 15th century'' in Stockholm Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities Bulletin no.22, 1950, no.10, pl.7, a dish in the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh. Other Landscape dishes belong to the City Art Gallery, Bristol, and to Sir Harry Garner.

Incised Yong Le period marks of this kind have been considered to be apocryphal. Opinion of Keitaku Takagi 6/1987: the Yongle mark is modern. The top and bottom of the box match exactly, which is rare. The point of the design, possibly a poetic topos, is that the guest is leaving while the host has fallen drunkenly asleep.

Descriptive line

Woo, China, lacquer, carved

Woo, China, lacquer, carved

Storage box, wood, lacquer, carved, China




East Asia Collection

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