The subject-matter carved on the present dish bears a strong Daoist immortality theme. In this instance, the main figure of Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West who presides in the Daoist Paradise, is richly depicted with symbols of immortality including a peach tree that bears fruit once every 3,000 years, a pine tree, a crane, a tortoise and lingzhi fungus. This pattern appears to be unique amongst a small group of large foliated dishes dated to the early Ming period. All of the other known examples, either bearing Yongle or Xuande marks, have a formulaic scene of scholars gathering within a terraced landscape such as the Yongle dish in the British Museum, illustrated by H. Garner, Chinese Lacquer, Faber and Faber, 1979, p. 85, pl. 30; the Yongle example in the Beijing Palace Museum collection, illustrated in Lacquer Wares of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 49, no. 32 (fig. 1); the Yongle dish sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 30 March 2006, lot 75; and the Xuande dish in the Royal Scottish Museum, included in the exhibition, Arts of the Ming Dynasty, Oriental Ceramic Society, 1957, no. 226, pl. 58.
It is interesting to note that on the 'scholars in landscape' dishes, bearing either a Yongle or Xuande reign mark, the carver has clearly differentiated the various spatial distances by using a floral diamond- diaper to indicate land, a series of waves for water, and horizontal lines for sky. Unlike these 'scholars' dishes, the pattern on the present dish is markedly dense particulalry in its design of the trees and shrubs that leave virtually no room for the carver to indicate the sky, and in this instance revealing only a plain base layer. The crowded design of the present dish within a circular medallion (not a barbed medallion as on the 'scholars' dishes) and the use of double outlines particularly in the depiction of the floral petals, all appear to share similarities with designs found on Yuan dynasty and Hongwu period ceramics. These have lead scholars to conclude that the dating of this 'Xiwangmu' dish is more likely to be somewhat earlier than the marked examples.
The Xiwangmu theme on the present dish may have been influenced by Daoist paintings. Compare the feathery fans held by the maidens (fig. 2a) and a fan held in the hand of the Daoist master Tao Hongjing (fig. 2b) in a portrait from an album leaf dated to the Yuan dynasty, in the National Palace Museum collection, illustrated by S. Little, Daoism and the Arts of China, The Art Institue of Chicago, 2000, p. 180, no. 38. It is interesting to note, the single phoenix on the headdress, voluminous flowing robes and upturned shoes, which all compare favourably to a depiction of Xiwangu, also in the National Palace Museum collection, entitled 'Blessings for Long Life', op. cit., p. 276, no. 93 (fig. 3).