The present tray is exceptional for the superb quality of carving and its unusually fine condition. Its maker, Yang Mao, is mentioned in the Gegu yao lun of 1388, as being a pupil of Yang Hui of Xitang at the end of the Yuan dynasty and famous for his carved lacquerware, see Sir Percival David, Chinese Connoisseurship, The Ko Ku Yao Lun: The Essential Criteria of Antiquities, London, 1971, p. 146.
The subject of two birds in flight amidst flower and foliage was very popular during the Song and Yuan dynasty, and can be found most often in a circular composition as on a dish or round box, where the bodies of the birds and their long flowing tail feathers form a circular motion. See, for example, the dish from the Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya, signed by the other famous Yuan dynasty lacquer carver Zhang Cheng, included in the exhibition Carved Lacquer, 1984, and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 52.
This rectangular tray is extremely rare and there does not appear to be another similar published example. The most closely related rectangular tray with similar birds and flowers, is another Zhang Cheng work, also from the Tokugawa Art Museum, illustrated ibid., no. 48. The composition on the Tokugawa example is read horizontally, while the present lot is oriented in a vertical direction. Compare also with a shaped oblong box and cover from the same museum collection, no. 51, where the composition is slightly awkward, with the flowers oriented in a vertical direction but the birds on a horizontal axis.