Height: 7 1/4 inches, 18.5 cm
Width: 4 3/4 inches, 11 cm


Tixi lacquer tiered box

China, Ming dynasty, 15th - 16th century

A tiered lacquer box of square form composed of four sections and a cover.  The box is supported on a short straight foot. The top and bottom corners of the box are subtly rounded.  The four sections are graduated in height, with the middle two sections being equal in size. The box is decorated all over in tixi technique with carved pommel scrolls. The sides of each section are carved with twelve pommel scrolls, with the scrolls facing in opposite directions on each layer.  The cover has a symmetrical design composed of four scrolling taotie-like stylised forms arranged around a central quatrefoil motif, with a further eight pommel scrolls around it.  Each section has a lipped rim at the top and bottom. The carving of the design motifs at an angle reveals the bright red layers of lacquer interspersed with the predominantly black lacquer surface. The interiors and the recessed base are plain and lacquered black. The exterior of the box is highly polished.

Stacked lacquer boxes were used to store food and then sent as a gift; the recipient did not keep the box, rather it was sent back with a return gift.[1]  This stacked lacquer box would have been considered a luxury item, as it comprises numerous tiers and has been handsomely carved with a geometric design of strongly rounded pommel scrolls with very clear and fine layers of red lacquer visible in the grooves. The combination of the highly polished surface of the lacquer, and the confidently executed carved design gives this box a rich visual quality.  A virtually identical box is in the collection of the Bukchon Art Museum in Seoul, Korea.[2]  It is dated 15th – 16th century.  A circular tiered lacquer food box with domed lid in the collection of Mike Healy is ascribed to the 15th century.[3]  Another tiered food box of lobed form is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and is dated 1500 – 1600.[4]

Ben Janssens Oriental Art, September 2009
Private Collection, UK

1    Kerr, R. eds. The T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art: Chinese Art and Design, Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publications, London, 1991, p.158
2    Chun, Yoon-soo, East Asian Lacquer, Bukchong Art Museum, Seoul, Korea, 2008, no I-27, page 57
3    White, J. M., Yanli Bao Masterpieces of Chinese Lacquer from the Mike Healy Collection, Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2005, no.11, pp. 44 – 45
4    Kerr, R. eds. Op cit. no. 68, page 158