Lacquer box with “Seven Sages in the Bamboo Grove”
China, Jiajing period, 1522 - 1566
A circular lacquer box, the flat cover carved with the Zhulin Qi Xian, or the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove”. The sages are depicted sitting in groups of two and three in a garden with eccentrically shaped rocks, clusters of bamboo and other plants. One sage is standing talking to a servant, and another one is seated behind a table. Two further servants are in attendance, one is shown fanning a small stove in the foreground. The sides of both box and cover are carved with a continuous frieze of fruits, which include lychees, pomegranate and persimmon. The base and interior of the box are lacquered black.
The group known as the Zhulin Qi Xian, the “Seven Sages or Worthies of the Bamboo Grove’, has a long history in Chinese art. They were a group of Chinese scholars and poets of the mid-3rd century who banded together to escape from the hypocrisy and danger of the official world to a life of drinking wine and writing verse in the country. Their retreat was typical of the Taoist-oriented qing tan or “pure conversation” movement that advocated freedom of individual expression and hedonistic escape from everyday life. The subject is rarely found on carved lacquer; a ‘late Ming dynasty” rectangular lacquer tray depicting the Seven Sages in a bamboo forest is in the Qing Court collection at the Palace Museum in Beijing. The same collection also houses a Jiajing period box with a comparable carving of the “five veterans” on the top. The size of this box is unusual; most boxes of this period are either larger or much smaller.
P.D. Krolik collection
Ben Janssens Oriental Art, September 2016
Private Collection, UK
Oriental Art, Winter 1967
1 Gugong Museum: Yuan Ming Qiqi (Yuan and Ming Dynasties Lacquer)- Complete Collection of Treasures Gugong, Hong Kong/China 2006, no. 193, p. 245
2 Gugong Museum, op. cit. no. 117, pp. 156 and 157