• Important Chinese Lacquer from auction at Christies

    Sale 2730

    Important Chinese Lacquer from the Lee Family Collection

    1 December 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1828


    Price Realised  



    The box of rounded shape with a vertical panel for the mirror handle, the top of the box carved to the buff ground with a phoenix and a five-clawed dragon with one claw removed, depicted in flight beneath a wan character, all among leafy lingzhi scrolls issuing from a rocky outcrop surrounded by crashing waves, the vertical sides of the box decorated with an undulating composite floral scroll of morning glory, chrysanthemum, camellia and peony, the base bearing the reign mark
    13 1/8 in. (33.4 cm.) long, box

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    The vast majority of surviving Chinese bronze mirrors are of circular, foliate or, occasionally, square shape with a raised, pierced, boss in the centre of the back, through which a cord could be threaded. They had no handles and were normally used on specially designed mirror stands, which could rest on, or be part of dressing tables. Relatively few hand-mirrors have survived from the period prior to the Qing dynasty when mirrors with separate cylindrical or elaborate handles became the fashion. The current mirror case was designed to hold one of the earlier bronze hand-mirrors on which a flat rectangular handle was cast as part of the original mirror. A Tang dynasty bronze hand-mirror of this type is illustrated in Les Miroirs de Bronze Anciens Symbolisme & Tradition, Paris, 1989, pp. 302-3. A Song dynasty handled mirror of this type is preserved in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei (illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Bronze Mirrors in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1986, pp. 236-7. pl. 143), while another dated to the period 12th-14th century and a Liao dynasty foliated example is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (illustrated by R. Kerr in Later Chinese Bronzes, London, 1990, p. 102, no. 88, and p. 97, no. 81 right, respectively).

    It is interesting to note that in the late Ming dynasty the collecting of mirrors had become fashionable, and a self-appointed arbiter of good taste Wen Zhenheng (1585-1645) in his Treatise on Superfluous Things, commended undecorated mirrors from the Qin dynasty [221-206 BC] and mercury-coloured mirrors with archaistic floral designs, but declared those with ornate inlaid decoration and hand-mirrors with handles to be vulgar (Zhang wu zhi jiaozhu revised edition with notes by Chen Zhi, Nanjing, 1984, juan 7, p. 274). Clearly his view did not deter the majority of late Ming mirror collectors.

    Circular lacquer mirror cases with painted decoration have been found in Warring States and in Western Han tombs, such as that of the consort of the Marquis of Dai, where a lacquered mirror case was found in the upper compartment of a magnificent two-tiered painted lacquer toilet box (illustrated in Mawangdui yihao Han mu, vol. 1, Beijing, 1973, no. 168). However, to date, the earliest excavated and published carved lacquer mirror case with a handle is from the Song dynasty. A mirror case with a scrolling pattern carved into polychrome layered lacquer, of the type sometimes known by the Japanese term guri lacquer, was excavated from a Southern Song tomb in Wujian, Jiangsu province (illustrated in Zhongguo qiqi quanji 4 Sanguo-Yuan, Fuzhou, 1998, p. 134, no. 124).

    A similar Jiajing-marked carved lacquer mirror case with rectangular handle, decorated with a design of dragons is in the collection of the Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst, Cologne, Germany, and is illustrated in Oriental Lacquer Arts, Tokyo National Museum, 1977, no, 532.

    As mentioned in the catalogue description, each dragon is missing one of the five claws from each foot. According to J. Watt and B. Ford, East Asian Lacquer; The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991, p. 96, in the entry for no. 34, the removal of one claw from each foot of five-clawed dragons on lacquer and porcelain of the Wanli and Jiajing periods was quite common. This may have been done when a 'palace piece was given by the emperor to a member of the nobility or a senior official and thus "downgraded"'.


    Fritz Low Beer


    Zhongguo Qiqi Quanji, vol. 5, Ming, Fujian meishu chubanshe, 1995, no. 105 Zhongguo Qiqi Jinghua, Fujian meishu chubanshe, 2003, no. 210
    Im Zeichen Des Drachen, Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, 2006, p. 154, no. 70


    Tokugawa Art Museum and Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, 1984, Carved Lacquer, p. 132, no. 190
    The Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, 1990, Dragon and Phoenix, Chinese Lacquer Ware, The Lee Family Collection, Catalogue, no. 60
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990/91
    The Shoto Museum of Art, Shibuya, Japan, 1991, Chinese Lacquerware, Catalogue, no. 63
    2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1993, no. 65