Diameter: 2 3/4 inches, 7 cm
Height: 1 1/4 inches, 3.2 cm


Lacquer box and cover

China, Ming dynasty, 16th century

A hardstone bi disc of uneven thickness. Its central, circular aperture is cut from both sides, leaving a ridge in the centre and visible grinding lines to either side of it. The stone displays a pattern of mottled light grey, white and dark grey tones. The disc is completely unadorned and its surface is well polished on both sides.

Carved lacquer boxes such as this beautiful example were used in both China and Japan as containers for storing incense powder.[1]  The design of lychees on a starburst ground occurs on similar boxes in jade and bronze.  In all materials, both top and bottom sections of the boxes appear to be carved, an unusual occurrence in Chinese decorative art.  A comparable box is in the collection of Florence and Herbert Irving[2].  Other examples are in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm[3] and in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan[4].

Ben Janssens Oriental Art, March 2003
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, page 105
2    Watt, J.C.Y. and Ford, B op. cit.. no. 40, page 105
3    Sir H. Garner: Chinese Lacquer, London 1979, plate 64
4    Various authors: Masterpieces of Chinese Carved Lacquer Ware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei 1971,  plate 19