Previously sold Sotheby's Hong Kong, 28 November 1978, lot 163.
This box is characteristic of 18th-century porcelain production for a society which took pleasure in teasing the eye by recreating objects in other media. As porcelain was a medium that was relatively easy to control and decorate to high standards of Imperial quality, it was frequently used to simulate a variety of other works of art such as hardstones, bronzes, cloisonne enamels, wood and lacquer, as in the case of this box and cover. A smaller circular box in imitation of early carved lacquer with prunus branches on a trellis ground, was included in the National Palace Museum Special Exhibition of K'ang-hsi, Yung-cheng and Ch'ien-lung Ware, 1986, Catalogue, no. 114, together with a hatstand, no. 112, and a censer, no. 113, the latter two with Qianlong seal marks. Other Qianlong examples of porcelain imitating lacquer can be found in the palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, 1989, p. 419, no. 101, a bowl with a gilt interior, and p. 420, no. 102, a chrysanthemum dish and similarly shaped covered bowl.
For a discussion on the virtuosity of the Chinese potters during the Qianlong period in simulating other materials in porcelain, see S. Jenyns, Later Chinese Porcelain, 1971, p. 67, where he quotes Zhu Yan's description in the Tao Shuo, published in 1774, of designs in carved cinnabar lacquer which were copied 'with such exactitude that it is necessary to handle the piece to convince one's-self that it is really made of porcelain.'
For the lacquer prototype of this circular box, compare a carved Ming dynasty box with similar garden scene, illustrated by Wang Shixiang, Ancient Chinese Lacquerware, 1987, pl. 49; and another Yongle period carved lacquer box in the O.C.S. of Hong Kong exhibition, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Catalogue, 1993, no. 40.