Height: 4 1/8 inches, 10.5 cm

Lacquer vase with plum blossoms

China, Ming dynasty, 16th century

A cinnabar lacquer vase of mallet form with bulbous body and long straight neck, terminating in a lipped rim. The body and the neck are fully carved with branches of plum blossom with buds set against a background of finely carved starburst diaper. The base is lacquered in black. The vase is contained in a Japanese wooden box.

Lacquer vases are extremely rare.  It is possible that this small vase served as a holder for incense sticks. Its decoration consists of blossoms of the plum tree, which are emblematic of perseverance and purity.  They also serve as a longevity symbol. Blooming on withered old branches, it is not only a welcome sight in winter but also a symbol for vigorous old age. The five petals represent the so-called Five Blessings: old age, wealth, health, love of virtue, and a natural death.[1]  This design is popular on Ming lacquer pieces, and can be observed on a mid-Ming dynasty brush pot in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing[2] and also on two circular boxes dated to the 16th century in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.[3]  A closely comparable cinnabar lacquer vase, similar in size and form, is in the Piert Borgers collection[4]

Private collection, Japan
Ben Janssens Oriental Art, February 2017
Private Collection, UK

1    Tse Bartholomew, T. Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 7.48, p. 212
2    Gugong Museum: Yuan Ming Qiqi (Yuan and Ming Dynasties Lacquer)- Complete Collection of Treasures Gugong, Hong Kong/China 2006, no. 98, p. 132
3    Carving the Subtle Radiance of Colours: Treasured Lacquerware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1999, nos. 43, 44, p. 64
4    Frick, P. and Borgers, W. Chinesische Lackkunst: Eine deutsche Privatsammlung, Museum für Lackkunst, Münster, no. 18, p. 48