Diameter: 2 3/4 inches 7cm
Height: 1 1/4 inch, 3cm


Tixi lacquer box and cover

China, Ming dynasty, early 15th century

A small lacquer box and cover of circular form with flat top and base.  In the centre of the lid a sphere is surrounded by four identically carved ruyi shapes. Four ‘pommel’ scrolls extend from these ruyi shapes and continue over the edge of the cover towards the rim of the lid. The bottom section is also carved and decorated with a more simplified pommel scroll design. The alternating layers of red and black lacquer are revealed in the diagonal carving of the design. The surface of the box is highly polished. Both the interior and the base are black.

The design feature of ‘pommel’ scrolls, so called due to its resemblance to the shape of the ring-pommel on early Chinese swords, was a popular design motif used on carved lacquer from the Song dynasty onwards (976 – 1279).[1] The decorative motif retained its appeal into the Ming dynasty, and this beautiful box is an excellent example. This design is generically referred to as tixi or ‘marbled’ lacquer.[2] The grooves are deliberately cut at an angle, revealing the different coloured layers of lacquer used to build up the surface. The charm of this box can be appreciated through its simple yet elegant abstract geometric design, which has been carefully planned and executed.  A very similar box carved in red lacquer, dated to the late Yuan to early Ming period, is in the collection of Florence and Herbert Irving.[3]

Ben Janssens Oriental Art, September 2009
Private Collection, UK

1    Watt, J.C.Y. and Ford, B. East Asian Lacquer, The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, p. 48
2    Krahl R. and Morgan, B. eds. From Innovation to Conformity: Chinese Lacquer from the 13th to 16th centuries, Bluett & Sons, 1989, p. 11
3    Watt, J.C.Y. and Ford, B. op cit., no. 11, p.56