AN EXQUISITE AND EXTREMELY RARE THREE-COLOUR TIXI LACQUER CIRCULAR TRAY
AN EXQUISITE AND EXTREMELY RARE THREE-COLOUR TIXI LACQUER CIRCULAR TRAY
AN EXQUISITE AND EXTREMELY RARE THREE-COLOUR TIXI LACQUER CIRCULAR TRAY
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PROPERTY FROM A JAPANESE FAMILY PRIVATE COLLECTION
AN EXQUISITE AND EXTREMELY RARE THREE-COLOUR TIXI LACQUER CIRCULAR TRAY

SONG DYNASTY (960-1279)

Details
AN EXQUISITE AND EXTREMELY RARE THREE-COLOUR TIXI LACQUER CIRCULAR TRAY
SONG DYNASTY (960-1279)
The rounded tray is superbly carved through layers of red, ochre and brown lacquer to depict a large central flowerhead surrounded by four smaller flowerheads, each divided by a half floral blossom and all against a ground of abstract scrolls. The exterior is carved with a classic scroll, above two horizontal bands on the foot. The base is lacquered brown.
8 3/8 in. (21.2 cm.) diam., Japanese wood box
Provenance
Acquired in the Edo period (1603-1867) by the owner of a sake brewery in Osaka (by repute), and thence by descent within the family to the current owner

Brought to you by

Marco Almeida (安偉達)
Marco Almeida (安偉達) SVP, Senior International Specialist, Head of Department

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Lot Essay

A Magnificent and Extremely Rare Song Dynasty Tixi Lacquer tray
Rosemary Scott,
Senior International Academic Consultant Asian Art

This rare and particularly beautiful Song dynasty tixi lacquer tray has been preserved as an heirloom by a Japanese family. It was acquired in the Edo period (AD 1603-1867) by the owner of a sake brewery in Osaka and passed down through generations of his descendants to the current owner. The tray is an especially fine example of Song dynasty lacquer decorated using a technique known in Japan as guri ??lacquer. The name guri is a term referring to the designs on the lacquer, which resemble the form of a sword pommel. In China this type of lacquer is called tixi (??, literally ‘carved rhinoceros’), while in English it is best described as ‘carved layered lacquer’. The technique involves the application of successive layers of differently coloured lacquer through which are carved linear designs using a u-shaped or v-shaped cut in order to display the different coloured layers. The current dish benefits from three different colours – brown, red and ochre – the top layer being glossy brown.

The tixi technique can be seen very occasionally on lacquers as early as the Han to Three Kingdoms period (206 BC-AD 280) and the Shanghai Museum has in its collection a small tixi lacquer box of this date (see ?? ?????? In a Myriad of Forms: The Ancient Chinese Lacquers, Shanghai, 2018, pp. 82-3, no. 44). However, these sophisticated lacquers with carved scrolling designs came to prominence amongst the luxury items treasured by the elite in the Song dynasty. Excavated examples of Song dynasty carved lacquer are rare, but as early as 1957 a box was published (see Shi Shuqing ???, Qi lin zhi xiaolu (?????A short note on lacquer inscriptions), Wenwu ??, No. 7, 1957, pp. 56-7. Unfortunately, the 1957 report in Wenwu only illustrated a rubbing of the design on the top, but the piece is, nevertheless, significant for two reasons. Firstly, it has on the base an inscription reading Zhenghe nian zhi ???? (made in the Zhenghe reign, AD 1111-1118) and, secondly, on the interior of its lid is a seal mark reading gong bao ?? (palace treasure), which indicates that as early as the beginning of the 12th century carved lacquers were being made for the Northern Song court.

In the 1980s and 1990s tixi lacquers were excavated from a small number of Southern Song and Jin dynasty sites in Jiangsu, Fujian and Shanxi provinces. In 1986 two multi-Tiered boxes were excavated from Southern Song tombs at Chayuanshan ???, Fuzhou City, Fujian (see Zhongguo meishu quanji - Zhongguo qiqi quanji, 4 Sanguo-Yuan ?? ?? ?? – ?????? 4 ??-?, Fuzhou, 1998, nos. 120 and 121). Both boxes have red lacquer as the top tier. One of the boxes has three sections and has lobed sides tiered (no. 121), while the other is octagonal and has four sections (no. 120). The latter comes from a tomb dated to the second year of the Duanping ?? period (AD 1235). In 1992 tixi items closer in style to the current dish were excavated from Southern Song tombs in Minqing xian ???, Fuzhou City, Fujian, including a small round box and the fragments of a larger box (see ibid., nos. 122 and 123). Amongst the tixi lacquers excavated from Song dynasty tombs in Jiangsu province are a mirror case, a round, domed, box excavated in 1991, and a fan handle (see ibid., nos. 124, 129, and 130). However, the excavated tixi lacquer closest in terms of style and fineness of execution to the current dish is a rectangular dressing case with internal tray, which was excavated from a Jin dynasty tomb in Datong City, Shanxi province (see In a Myriad of Forms: The Ancient Chinese Lacquers, op. cit., pp. 90-1, no. 49).

This last rectangular box shares with the current dish wide grooves, which display the differently coloured lacquer layers particularly well, and a narrow, especially fluent, top layer of black lacquer, which gives the design a refined delicacy. It is interesting to note that similar fine scrolling designs have been found on moulded bricks excavated from a decorative path in the ruins of the garden belonging to an important Northern Song government building at Luoyang, which was the western capital of the Northern Song dynasty and was known as a significant cultural centre (see Top 100 New Archaeological Discoveries of China 1990-1999, ???????????, Beijing, 2002, p. 745).

Amongst Song dynasty tixi lacquers preserved in international collections, the examples which most closely match the complexity and delicacy of design of the current dish are a circular box and tray in the collection of the Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya, a rectangular tray from the same collection – both included in the exhibition The Colors and Forms of Song and Yuan China Featuring Lacquerwares, Ceramics, and Metalwares ???? – ?????????, Nezu Institute of Fine Arts ?????, Tokyo, 2004, nos. 45 and 51, and a dish of similar size to the current dish, which was included in the same exhibition, no. 50. It is interesting to note that the Nezu exhibition included another Southern Song dyansty tixi lacquer dish of similar size to the current dish (exhibit no. 58), while the Special Exhibition Oriental Lacquer Arts ??? – ?????? held at the Tokyo National Museum in 1977 included three dishes of similar shape and size (see catalogue nos. 31, 32 and 38). It seems likely that this particular shape and size of dish was particularly revered in Japan, possibly for use in tea ritual, and has therefore been carefully preserved. Even amongst these treasured heirlooms, the current dish stands out for its quality of execution and fine condition.

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