Diameter: 3 inches, 7.6 cm
Height: 1 inch, 2.5 cm


Lacquer incense box

China, Ming Dynasty, 15th century

A small cinnabar lacquer box of circular form with slightly convex sides.The flat top is carved through a thick layer of lacquer and depicts a tall lady dressed in voluminous robes and a billowing scarf, accompanied by two children dressed in short robes over trousers.  One of the children hides behind her, whilst she hands a flowering branch to the other child, who wears a coin-shaped ornament on its back. The group stands on a terrace in a rocky landscape, with a plantain tree and a pine tree behind them. A band consisting of double key-frets is carved all the way around the sides of the box and the cover. The interior and slightly recessed base of the box are plain and lacquered black.

Small boxes such as this example were intended to store incense powder, cosmetics or other personal items. The design theme of figures within a landscape setting was frequently used on small lacquer boxes during the 15th century.[1] The quality of the carving and colour of the lacquer of this period are invariably excellent. Carefully carved details such as the billowing robes of the lady and the fine lines incised to denote the bark on the pine tree can be appreciated upon closer examination. A comparable lacquer box depicting a woman bathing children and with the same key fret design around the sides is in the collection of the Tokugawa Art Museum in Japan.[2] A further comparable example was formerly in the collection of Edward Chow is dated by Tregear to the late Ming dynasty.[3] A small lacquer dish dated to the late 15th century with a design of two comparable children is in the Muwen Tang collection.[4]

Phillip Allen collection, Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury, November 2023

  1. Philips, P. eds. Lacquer: An International History and Collector’s Guide, The Crowood Press, Wiltshire, 1984, page 38
  2. Carved Lacquer, The Tokugawa Art Museum, 1984 no. 157, p. 113
  3. Tregear, M. eds. The Virginia and Edward Chow Foundation & Collections Baur: One Man’s Taste, Geneva, 1988, no. L.13
  4. Kwan, S. Chinese Lacquer, the Muwen Tang dynasty, 618 – 906 Collection series, no. 20, Hong Kong, 2010, no. 68. pp. 220-1