Length: 3 inches, 7.5 cm
Height: 23/8 inches, 6 cm


Lacquer two-tiered box

China, 18th century

A small two-tiered red lacquer box of quatrefoil outline, resembling a ruyi head.  The box is supported on four curved bracket feet.  The flat top is carved through a thick layer of lacquer with two stylized kui-dragons facing a central floral roundel amidst archaic scrolling patterns. The scene is set on a ground of densely carved square diaper pattern.  The straight sides of the box are carved with similar archaistic decoration, also set on a ground of diapers. The interior and the base are lacquered in black.

This unusual, beautifully carved and detailed lacquer box takes the form of the head of a ruyi (meaning ‘as you wish’), which in turn takes its shape from the lingzhi fungus, considered to be imbued with magic qualities. During the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912) ruyi sceptres were presented to emperors and empresses on their birthdays and on other auspicious occasions such as betrothals and weddings.[1]   Lacquer tiered boxes of this shape and design would appear to be extremely rare; no exactly comparable examples have been published.  A small, footed red lacquer box of more conventional circular shape, carved with comparable archaistic patterns, forms part of an incense set in the Qing Court collection.[2]   A two-tiered circular red lacquer box dating from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Taipei.[3]

Ben Janssens Oriental Art, February 2015
Private Collection, UK

1    Tse Bartholomew, T. Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006, 9.12, p. 264
2    Lacquer Wares of the Qing Dynasty, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Beijing 2006, pl. 58, p. 83
3    Carving the Subtle Radiance of Colours: Treasures Lacquerware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1999, no. 1443 p. 141