Lacquer two­-tiered box

China, Qing dynasty, 18th Century

Length: 3 inches, 7.5 cm
Height: 2 3⁄8 inches, 6 cm

A small two­-tiered red lacquer box of quatrefoil outline, resembling a ruyi head. The box is supported on four curved bracket feet. The flat top is carved  through a thick layer of lacquer with two stylised kui­-dragons facing a central floral roundel amidst archaic scrolling patterns. The scene is set on a ground of densely carved square diaper pattern. The straight sides of the box are carved with similar archaistic decoration, also set on a ground of diapers. The interior and the base are lacquered in black.


This unusual, beautifully carved and detailed lacquer box takes the form of the head of a ruyi (meaning ‘as you wish’) sceptre, which in turn takes its shape from the lingzhi fungus, considered to be imbued with magic qualities by Chinese. During the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912) ruyi sceptres were presented to emperors and empresses on their birthdays and on other auspicious occasions such as betrothals and weddings.[1] Lacquer tiered boxes of this shape and design would appear to be extremely rare; no exactly comparable examples have been published. A small, footed red lacquer box of more conventional circular shape, carved with comparable archaistic patterns, forms part of an incense set that is in the Qing Court collection.[2] A two­-tiered circular red lacquer box dating from the Qianlong period (1736 ­- 1795) is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Taipei [3]. A cloisonné enamel box of ruyi head form with a cloud and bat design, dated to the mid­ Qing dynasty, is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.[4]

  1. Tse Bartholomew, T., Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Musuem, San Francisco, 2006, 9.12, p. 264
  2. Lacquer Wares of the Qing Dynasty, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Beijing 2006, pl. 58, p. 83
  3. Carving the Subtle Radiance of Colours: Treasures Lacquerware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1999, no. 1443 p. 141
  4. Zhang, Li, Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Enamels 3, Cloisonné in the Qing Dynasty (1644-­1911), The Forbidden City, Beijing, no. 269, p. 310