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A RARE CARVED AND MOLDED YUE ‘MANDARIN DUCKS’ BOX AND COVER
A RARE CARVED AND MOLDED YUE ‘MANDARIN DUCKS’ BOX AND COVER

FIVE DYNASTIES-NORTHERN SONG DYNASTY (907-1127)

Details
A RARE CARVED AND MOLDED YUE ‘MANDARIN DUCKS’ BOX AND COVER
FIVE DYNASTIES-NORTHERN SONG DYNASTY (907-1127)
The domed cover is carved in high relief with a band of overlapping lotus petals, surmounted by a finial molded in the shape of two ducks, each resting its head on the other’s shoulder. The box is similarly carved with overlapping lotus petals, and supported on a splayed foot. The box and cover are covered with a slightly matte glaze of olive-green tone with a yellowish tinge with the exception of the rims and some parts of the base.
4 in. (10.1 cm.) high, Japanese wood box
Provenance
Sen Shu Tey, Tokyo.
Literature
Tokyo National Museum, Special Exhibition Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo, 1994, p. 93, no. 129.
Sen Shu Tey, Tokyo, The Collection of Chinese Art – Special Exhibition ‘Run Through 10 Years’, Tokyo, 2006, p. 56, no. 65.
Christie’s, The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: An Exhibition of Song Treasures from the Linyushanren Collection, Hong Kong, 2012, pp. 20-21, no. 1.
Exhibited
The Tokyo National Museum, Special Exhibition Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo, 12 October-23 November 1994.
Sen Shu Tey, The Collection of Chinese Art – Special Exhibition ‘Run Through 10 Years’, Tokyo, 2006.
Christie’s, The Classical Age of Chinese Ceramics: An Exhibition of Song Treasures from the Linyushanren Collection, Hong Kong, 22 to 27 November 2012; New York, 15 to 20 March 2013; London, 10 to 14 May 2013.

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Margaret Gristina (葛曼琪)
Margaret Gristina (葛曼琪) Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art

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Lot Essay

This exquisite box is exceptional not only for the bold lotus-petal design and fine quality of the carving but also for the extraordinarily rare three-dimensional ducks adorning the cover. The combination of decorative motifs would have made this box a perfect wedding gift. The two ducks are symbolic of marital felicity, while the lotus provides a rebus for harmony as well as a reference to purity and feminine beauty. The seedpods depicted on the flat top below the ducks also provide a reference to the wish for progeny.

Confronted birds, particularly ducks, was a popular subject in the decorative arts of the Tang and Song dynasties and can be seen on ceramics, silver and textiles. It is rare, however, for their necks of the ducks to be entwined, as seen on the present box. A similar depiction of ducks with entwined necks can be found carved on the cover of a Yue box from the collection of Robert E. Barron III, M.D, sold at Christie’s New York, 30 March 2005, lot 265.

The fine celadon-glazed stonewares produced at the Yue kilns in Zhejiang province were so admired at the Northern Song court, that, according to the Song shi (Song history) and the Song hui yao (Collected source material on the Song dynasty), when Qianshi the ruler of Wu-Yue submitted to the Song in AD 978 he offered the emperor at Kaifeng 50,000 pieces of mise (secret color) Yue ware, 150 of which were fitted with gold or silver-gilt bands. Indeed it has been estimated that some 170,000 pieces of tribute Yue ware are recorded for the first three decades of the Northern Song period (i.e. AD 960-990). In addition, fine Yue wares have been found in a number of Tang, Five Dynasties and Song royal and aristocratic tombs, most notably those of the royal house of the Kingdom of Wu-Yue and the tomb of the Song dynasty Empress Li, wife of the Emperor Zhenzong. The empress’s tomb, located at Gongxian in Henan province, is dated to AD 1000.

Yue celadon wares helped establish a taste for subtle celadon glazes at the imperial court in the north. It is therefore not surprising that the most famous Northern Song dynasty celadon of all, Ru ware, was strongly influenced by Yue ware.

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