Length: 17 1/2 inches, 44.5 cm
Width: 11 3/4 inches, 29.8 cm
Height: 5 inches, 12.8 cm


Lacquer and mother-of-pearl inlaid box and cover

China, Ming dynasty, 16th century

A large lacquer and mother-of-pearl inlaid box and cover of rectangular form, the cover inlaid in iridescent slivers of mother-of-pearl with a large multi-storeyed pavilion in a landscape with rocks, willows and pines, smaller pavilions, figures, and mountains in the far distance below a full moon. In the foreground there are figures on horseback arriving at the pavilion. The sides of the box and cover are decorated in the same technique with cartouches enclosing birds and flowers against a geometric ground.The lacquered base is finely adorned with a naturalistic composition of two birds perched on a prunus tree. The interiors of the box and cover are lacquered in black.

During the Ming dynasty lacquered furniture and objects inlaid with mother-of-pearl were considered as particularly desirable. Writing and document boxes such as the present example were elegant additions to the scholar’s studio. Black lacquered tables, screens, boxes, and trays were lavishly decorated with iridescent gardens and palaces. A circular box with similar decoration, dated 1537, was formerly in the collection of Sir Harry Garner.[1] The flower and bird design on the base can be found on trays and screens, but rarely on the bases of boxes. A highly similar 16th-century writing box, of similar size and decoration, and with the same type of design on the base, is in the Tokyo National Museum.[2]

Formerly in a German private collection

Frick, P. Chinesische Lackkunst: Eine Deutsche Privatsammlung, Münster 2010, pl. 35, pp 74-75

  1. Riddel, S., Dated Chinese Antiquities, London and Boston, 1979, no. 163
  2. Exhibition of Mother-of-Pearl Inlay in Chinese Lacquer, Tokyo National Museum, 1979, cat. no. 50