Diameter: 6 3/4 inches, 17.2 cm
Height: 2 1/2 inches, 6.4 cm


Lacquer circular box carved in tixi technique

China, Yuan/Ming Dynasty, 14th -15th centuries

A lacquer box and cover of circular form with flat top and base.  Both top and bottom are carved with an identical pattern of rows of ‘pommel’ scrolls; ten in the outer ring and six in the inner ring, arranged around a hexagon composed of two pommels.  The grooves are cut at a diagonal angle, showing the alternating layers of red and black lacquer and the surface is highly polished.  The interior of the box is plain and both sections have a single character in red lacquer – a Japanese collector’s mark – to the centre.

This box with its striking abstract geometric design of bold trefoils is highly unusual, in that the top and bottom sections are carved with an identical pattern and are as such indistinguishable, but for the interior rim on the bottom section.  Most boxes with this decoration have a plain, recessed base section.  The pattern of ‘pommel scrolls’ – so called because it resembles the shape of the ring-pommel on early Chinese swords – is generically referred to as tixi or ‘marbled’ lacquer. The grooves are deliberately cut at an angle, revealing the different coloured layers of lacquer used to build up the surface.  The term guri, which is often used to denote the same motif, was coined in Japan.  Tixi lacquer is known from the Southern Song dynasty (1127 – 1279) onwards and became very popular during the Yuan dynasty (1279 – 1368). The shape and arrangement of the pommel scrolls is similar to that on a three-tiered covered box from the collection of Mike Healy.[1]  White dates another covered box with a similar design from the same collection to the Ming dynasty, 15th century.[2]  The hexagonal central design composed of double pommels on the top of the box can be seen on a covered box in the Irving collection, dated by Watt to the late 14th century.[3]

Ben Janssens Oriental Art, February 2008
Private Collection, UK

1    White, J.M. Masterpieces of Chinese Lacquer from the Mike Healy Collection, Honolulu Academy of Arts, no. 11, pp. 44-5
2    White, J.M. op.cit. no. 13, pp. 48-9
3    Watt, J.C.Y. and Ford, B. East Asian Lacquer, The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, no. 10, pp. 54-5