Yuan carved lacquer trays of this substantial size and such extraordinarily high quality are extremely rare. Two eight-lobed trays of similar size, shape, colour and decorative theme, dated to the Yuan dynasty are published: the first is in the collection of the Idemitsu Collection, illustrated in Ancient Chinese Arts in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1989, no. 354; and the other with the maker's mark, Zhang Cheng zao, in the Kitamura Art Museum, Kyoto, included in the exhibition, Carved Lacquer, the Tokugawa Art Museum and Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, 1984, is illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 52. Each of these examples are depicted with five birds in flight in the medallion rather than four as in the present tray.
A smaller (27 cm. diam.) eight-lobed carved black lacquer tray bearing a Xuande mark, and decorated with only two birds among peonies, is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taibei, illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Carved Lacquer Ware in the National Palace Museum, Gakken, 1971, no. 8. The bracket lobes on the Taibei tray are more exaggerated, as would be expected of a Ming piece, and the decoration depicts a peacock and a peahen among peonies, which are proportionately larger in relation to the size of the tray.
The style of carving on the current dish shares many features with the carving on smaller fine 14th century black lacquer trays without lobes and with only two birds among flowers. One with cranes among chrysanthemums is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, illustrated by J. Figgess, 'A Masterpiece of Chinese Carved Lacquerware', Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Winter 1981, vol. 59, nos. 1 and 2, p. 66, fig. 1. Two more trays with mandarin ducks among lotus are in the collections of the British Museum and the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, illustrated ibid., p. 69, figs. 3 and 4, and p. 71, fig. 5, respectively. The Victoria and Albert Museum has in its collection a tray with long-tailed birds among peonies, ibid., p. 72, figs. 6 and 7, as has the Okayama Museum, illustrated in Oriental Lacquer Arts, Tokyo National Museum, 1977, no. 459; and Okayama has another with crested birds among peonies, illustrated ibid., no. 461. A round tray with crested, long-tailed birds among mallow was included in the exhibition, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, illustrated by P. Lam (ed.) in the Catalogue, no. 35. A round dish formerly in the Garner collection has a design of two pheasants among camellias, illustrated in Chinese and Associated Lacquer from the Garner Collection, British Museum, London 1973, pl. 11, no. 29. The Tokyo National Museum has an eight-lobed tray with crested, long-tailed birds among mallow and there is a round tray with long-tailed birds among mallow in a Japanese private collection, illustrated op. cit., nos. 458 and 460 respectively. The Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, has an example with two herons among hibiscus, illustrated in Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, p. 74, fig. 8. While all of these trays are much smaller (all between 29 and 32.8 cm. in diam.) than the current lobed tray, they share the theme of birds in flight among a complex background of flowers. They also share the exceptionally high quality of carving, including a most sophisticated use of graded relief, and distinctive conventions for depicting feathers. Another small black tray (27 cm.) with peacock and peahen among flowers is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taibei, illustrated in Great National Treasures of China, 1983, pp. 117-8, no. 58.
Another of these smaller carved lacquer trays with decoration in similar style to the current black tray is a red one in the Daisen-in monastry of the Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, illustrated by J. Figgess, 'Ming and Pre-Ming Lacquer in the Japanese Tea Ceremony', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 37, 1967/69, p. 49, pl. 49a. This red tray, which is decorated with peacock and peahen among hibiscus, is believed to have been presented to the monastery on the occasion of its foundation in 1509 by the Emperor Gokashiwabara, from among his personal imperial treasures. The tray is inscribed on the base, Zhang Cheng zao, Made by Zhang Cheng, an indication that it was made by the famous Yuan dynasty lacquer craftsman Zhang Cheng, who is mentioned in the Gegu yao lun of 1388. The extraordinary fineness of the Daisen-in tray is more than matched by the current tray which must also have been the product of one of the most prestigious 14th century lacquer workshops.