Surviving examples of late Ming dynasty inlaid lacquer furniture are exceedingly rare. The present lot is a masterpiece of its type, elegantly lacquered and inlaid with a finely composed naturalistic scene well suited to the scholarly taste of the period. Compare a similarly inlaid black lacquer compound cabinet illustrated by H. Cescinsky in Chinese Furniture: A Series of Examples From Collections in France, London, 1922, pl. IX. Two other similarly inlaid cabinets are also illustrated by M. Beurdeley, Chinese Furniture, New York, p.119, pl.161 (detail) and p. 121, pl. 164. For a further discussion on the Zhouzhi inlay tradition see C. Evarts, 'The Zhouzhi Tradition and Inlaid Hardwood Furnishings of the Late Ming and Qing Dynasties', Liang Yi Collection, Vol. 3, Hong Kong 2007, pp. 62-77.
The present cabinet is especially rich in symbolism, and suggests that it may have been commissioned or given as a gift to celebrate a marriage. The two birds on the left door of the cabinet may represent magpies, which atop a plum tree form the rebus Xishang meishao, or 'May your joy reach up to the top of your eyebrows.' The addition of the bamboo, combined with magpies and plum, forms the rebus: Zhumei shuangxi, or 'Double happiness for the bride and groom.' However, the birds may also be interpreted as the thrush, which together with roses and rocks form the rebus: Changchun baitou, or 'May husband and wife enjoy old age together.'
The iconography present on the right door is equally auspicious. Pomegranates, with their numerous seeds, symbolise fertility and the arrival of numerous offspring, while its red blossoms were believed to ward off evil. The dragonfly and begonia form the rebus: Heqing haiyan, or 'May there be peace in the universe.' The butterflies, present on both the doors and sides of the cabinet, fluttering amidst flowers, form the rebus: Dielianhua, symbolising joy, love and good fortune.
The complex symbolism and strong wishes conveyed through the numerous rebuses, together with the refined and understated elegance in both form and subject matter of the present lot, place it amongst the finest of the examples of inlaid lacquer furniture from this period.