• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2711

    The Imperial Sale, Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

    27 May 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1906


    Price Realised  


    YUAN DYNASTY (1279-1368)

    Of square form intricately inlaid with finely carved mother-of-pearl set against a dark-brown lacquer ground around the sides and cover with scenes of a scholars' meeting including three seated figures playing weiqi, two scholars admiring a finely incised landscape scroll, two figures seated in contemplation on animal pelts playing the qin, two scholars admiring a leaf from an album, all set within fenced gardens, one of the balustrades inscribed with the name Boxuan li written vertically, the sliding faceted cover with a wide diaper border enclosing a further scene with two scholars in discussion before an elaborate dwelling surrounded by walls enclosing three horses, one of the balustrades delicately inscribed with the characters Zhoutong zuo, 'Made by Zhoutong', all within fine ropetwist borders, resting on a splayed foot with a shaped apron decorated with a cell pattern border enclosing florets, the interior lacquered red with a separate tray resting on raised platforms at each corner
    5 3/8 in. (13.7 cm.) high, Japanese wood box

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    Only two other comparable Yuan mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes of this unusual form appear to be published. Both were included in the exhibition of Chinese Inlaid Mother-of-Pearl Lacquer Art, Tokyo, 1979, illustrated in the Catalogue nos. 5 and 11 from the Daitoku-ji Temple collection, Kyoto and an unspecified private collection respectively. Although the form is similar, the present example differs in that it has a sliding cover which is not as tall as the examples published in the Tokyo exhibition.

    There are a very limited number of Yuan period mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer wares that are inscribed with either the name of the craftsmen or a cyclical date.

    Three examples inscribed with cyclical dates are known. The first is a low table from a private collection, included in the exhibition, The Colors and Forms of Song and Yuan China, Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, Tokyo, 2004, and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 126. The low table is embellished with mother-of-pearl on its upper surface depicting a busy town scene where figures are preoccupied with their various pursuits; and neatly concealed on one of the banisters is an inscription with the cyclical Xinchou date which corresponds to 1301. The second example is a square box and cover from a private collection included in the exhibition, Cyokoku no Raden, Chinese Inlaid Mother-of-Pearl, Tokyo National Museum, 1981, and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 15, inscribed with a cyclical Wuwu date (1318). The third is a table screen decorated with a scene of gathering scholars, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 25 November 2005, lot 1460. The table screen is similarly incised on a balustrade with the characters: Jianfu Luling Xian Gao Xianzhang Jisiji xia, '(Recorded) in the summer of the Jisi year by Guo Xianzhang of Luling county Jian prefecture'; the Jisi date corresponds to AD 1329.

    It is interesting to note the mention of Luling county in Jian prefecture which is located in Jiangxi province. This district was mentioned by Cao Zhao in Ge Gu Yao Lun, 'The Essential Criteria of Antiquities', dated to 1388, as the source of fine mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer ware, cf. Sir Percival David, Chinese Connoisseurship, London, 1971, pp. 148-149. Another published reference to Luling is found incised on the upper surface of a lobed box which was included in the exhibition, East Asian Urushi Lacquer Work with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay, the Tokugawa Art Museum, 1999, and illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 24, no. 14. The inscription on the lobed-box is incised and written in a vertical line on one of the garden balustrades reading: Luling Hu Zhaojiong tiebi, 'Inscribed (by) Hu Zhaojiong of Luling'.

    A closely comparable and extensively published rectangular stationary box inscribed with the characters Luodian Jiang Yin Junhua, (Made by the mother-of-pearl craftsman Yin Junhua) from the Lee family collection was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, Important Chinese Lacquer from the Lee Family Collection, 3 December 2008, lot 2113. Compare also a circular box, in the Tokyo National Museum collection, bearing the name of the craftsman, included in the same exhibition of 1981 and illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 23, no. 14. The Tokyo National Museum example has two inscriptions, one bearing the name of the craftsman, Tiebi Xiao Zhen, 'Inscribed (by) Xiao Zhen', and the other inscribed on another post which possibly reads, Wenliang Wang Shuheng gong, 'A tribute from Wang Xiaoheng (possibly of Wenliang)'.

    It appears that one of the earliest pictorial carvings using mother-of-pearl material, dated to the Yuan period, is a mother-of-pearl fragment unearthed at Dadu, and now in the Capital Museum collection, illustrated in Zhongguo Meishu Quanji, vol. 8, Lacquerware, Wenwu chubanshe, 1989, no. 112. The excavated fragment depicts the Guanghan Gong, the palace of immortality from Chinese mythology, which appears to be a popular theme adopted by craftsmen of the Yuan and Ming periods. A good comparable example is a mother-of-pearl octagonal box dated to the Yuan period in the Hayashibara Museum of Art, Okayama, included in the Tokugawa Art Museum exhibition and illustrated op. cit., no. 12. The octagonal box is decorated with a scene of figures amidst a terraced pavilion, and inscribed with the characters Guanghan Gong above a gateway in the far distance.


    A Japanese private collection