The name for this type of lacquer, tixi, literally means carved rhinoceros, and derives from the Chinese characters most commonly used for the term xipi used to describe marbled lacquer, which resembles the hide of a rhinoceros. However, although both lacquer techniques involve the application of layers of lacquer in different colours, and their exposure for decorative purposes, the methods vary considerably. While the layers of differently coloured lacquer are applied to a deliberately uneven surface in xipi lacquer, they are applied to a well-prepared smooth surface for tixi lacquer. While the different colours are revealed by rubbing down the surface of xipi lacquer, they are revealed by carving designs in wide U-shaped or V-shaped lines on tixi lacquers.
This type of tixi lacquer is often referred by the Japanese name guri lacquer. The reference is to the most common designs on these wares, which are scrolling patterns. The word guri refers to pommel scroll, which these designs are thought to resemble. The equivalent Chinese term is jianhuan or sword [pommel] scroll, but these lacquers are most often referred to in Chinese by the term tixi. In English the term guri was traditionally used, but Sir Harry Garner proposed the term 'carved marbled ware' instead. The most popular design, and the one seen on the current tray, is usually described as ruyi yun wen or ruyi cloud pattern. Although this dish bears a truncated version of the latter on its exterior, some other vessels bear a design known in Chinese as xiang cao or twisted grass, and in English as classic scroll.
While the technique of tixi lacquer can be traced at least as far back as the Tang dynasty, it rose to popularity in the Song and Yuan periods. The lacquers from these periods are particularly prized and are known for the U-shaped profile of their designs, as can be seen on the current tray. There is a description of what a 14th century author regarded as the most valuable ancient wares in the AD1388 text, the Gegu yao lun, which includes the information: 'The bottom [of the incision] is like an inverted roof-tile, and [the wares] are lustrous, solid and thin' (see Sir Percival David, Chinese Connoisseurship - the Ko Ku Yao Lun - The Essential Criteria of Antiquities, London, 1971, p. 144).
A tray of this rare form, and of similar design and size was included in the exhibition, From Innovation to Conformity, Chinese Lacquer from the 13th to 16th centuries, Bluett & Sons, London, June 1989, no. 4. Compare also a later 15th century tray of similar form and design from the collection of the King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, illustrated by J. Wirgin, 'Some Chinese Carved Lacquer of the Yuan and Ming Periods', Bulletin of the Museum of Far Estern Antiquities, No. 44, Stockholm, 1972, no. 10, pl. 8b. A later interpretation of this design can also be found on a large tray in the Linden Museum, Stuttgart, illustrated by M. Kopplin, ed., Im Zeichen des Drachen, Linden-Museum, 2006, p. 102, no. 37.