The motif of cranes was extremely popular during the Jiajing period because of its association with longevity, to which the emperor fervently aspired, and therefore is found on numerous 16th-century lacquer pieces. The present box, however, is unique, as it appears to be the only lacquerware of this type to be decorated with the character Sheng, which might suggest that this box was presented to a temple and possibly used as a reliquary.
A Jiajing-marked cinnabar lacquer box of this same shape carved with dragons amidst flowers and clouds, formerly from the George and Mary Rockwell Collection and now in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, was included in the exhibition, Far Eastern Art in Upstate New York, New York, 1976, p. 44, no. 49. A comparable Jiajing-marked box with further compartments on the interior and carved with a Shou symbol amid emblematic plants is illustrated in Carved Lacquer in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, 1985, pl. 169. Compare also another cabinet with phoenix confronted on a Shou character, illustrated in the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong Catalogue to the exhibition 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, 1993, no. 54. Another very similar Jiajing-marked rectangular box with cranes and Shou characters was sold in our London Rooms, 1 December 1997, lot 260.