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A RARE AND FINELY CARVED RED LACQUER DAOIST SCRIPTURE BOX AND COVER
A RARE AND FINELY CARVED RED LACQUER DAOIST SCRIPTURE BOX AND COVER
A RARE AND FINELY CARVED RED LACQUER DAOIST SCRIPTURE BOX AND COVER
A RARE AND FINELY CARVED RED LACQUER DAOIST SCRIPTURE BOX AND COVER
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THE FLORENCE AND HERBERT IRVING COLLECTION
A RARE AND FINELY CARVED RED LACQUER DAOIST SCRIPTURE BOX AND COVER

CHINA, QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD (1736-1795)

Details
A RARE AND FINELY CARVED RED LACQUER DAOIST SCRIPTURE BOX AND COVER
CHINA, QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD (1736-1795)
The sliding cover finely carved through the red lacquer layers to the ochre ground with an intricate scene of an assembly of Daoist immortals, each narrow side carved with a five-clawed dragon pursuing a flaming pearl amidst clouds above a rock formation emerging from crashing waves, the motif repeated on the back where the two dragons flank a central rectangular panel enclosing the partially effaced reign mark, which would have read Da Qing Qianlong nian jing zhi (made with reverence in the Qianlong reign of the Great Qing dynasty) executed in raised characters, all above a waisted rectangular base carved with lotus petals
13 ½ in. (33.9 cm.) high
Provenance
Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1982.
The Irving Collection, no. 835.

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Lot Essay

A Rare Imperial Red Lacquer Box to Store a Daoist Scripture

This rare scripture box belongs to a group of similar carved red lacquer boxes that were made during the Qianlong period to store Daoist and Buddhist scriptures. Although the Qianlong emperor was a devotee of Tibetan Buddhism, he followed the tradition of the Qing court in supporting Daoism, as well. During his reign, and that of the other Qing emperors, he participated in annual Daoist rituals and festivities, and elaborate Daoist celebrations were held around his birthday. This fluid boundary between Daoism and Buddhism that had evolved during the centuries since the introduction of Buddhism to China, when Daoism was already well established, also resulted in the intermingling of Buddhist and Daoist imagery, Whether made to store Daoist or Buddhist scriptures, all of the published lacquer scripture boxes of this type are finely carved with similar densely populated assemblies of either Daoist or Buddhist celestial beings.

The Irving box appears to depict Wenchang, the Daoist god of Literature and Culture, seated holding a hu tablet on a throne at the top. The assembly includes gods dressed as officials holding hu tablets, intermixed with other gods holding discs of the Twelve Animals of the Zodiac, some figures with dragon, bird or animal heads, guardian figures and a central figure of Marshal Wang (Wang Yuanshuai) standing on a flaming wheel. A lacquer box with related decoration of an assembly of Daoist celestial beings, also with a seven-character Qianlong mark, as well as the scripture that it held, the Huangtingjing (Scripture of the Yellow Court), is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, and illustrated in China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, p. 153, no. 60. The catalogue entry notes that the scripture book consists of two volumes with brocade covers and a brocade-covered slipcase that would have been kept in the carved red lacquer box. The back of the box has an inscription, Da Qing Qianlong nian jing zao (Made with reverence in the Qianlong era of the Great Qing). The catalogue entry further notes that the Huantingjing was a fourth-century Chinese meditational text that "encompasses several layers of doctrines and practices in the Daoist cosmology," and that the "duplication of scriptures was considered a meritorious practice in both Buddhism and Daoism." The copy in the Palace Museum collection was executed in the ninth year of the Qianlong emperor's reign (1744), reflecting the "Emperor's interest in Daoist self-cultivation practices."

Two other lacquer boxes of this shape carved with Buddhist assemblies have been published. One formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Palmer, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is illustrated by R. Soame Jenyns and William Watson, Chinese Art II, New York, 1980 ed., pp. 220-21, no. 47. This box has very similar dragon panels on the narrow sides and a Qianlong mark in green and red lacquer that translates as "Reverently offered to the emperor Qianlong," on the back. The box is described as being decorated with Buddhist saints and defenders presided over by Maitreya, the Buddha-to-come. The authors propose that boxes of this type were used to hold spirit tablets inscribed with the deceased's name and were kept in an ancestral temple. The Palmer box is also published by Michel Beurdeley, The Chinese Collector through the Centuries, Vermont/Tokyo, 1966, p. 235, no. 76. The second box, sold at Sotheby's, Paris, 22 June 2017, lot 122, dated to the Qianlong period, does not have a mark and the dragons on the narrow sides are shown amidst dense clouds. The celestial assembly on this box, like the Palmer box, is identified as being overseen by Maitreya.

A related carved red lacquer box, of almost square shape and somewhat smaller size (28 cm. high), decorated on the front and the sides with similar scenes of celestial beings, in this instance Budddhist, from the Qing Court collection, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 46 - Lacquer Wares of the Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 38, pl. 24, where it is described as a sutra container. The Qianlong mark is in a panel in the center of the carved top.
Patricia Curtin
Consultant, Christies

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