The present tray, carved with extraordinary workmanship, is truly exceptional for its rarity and quality. The motifs on this tray- a combination of the Constellation of Three Stars, candle, lotus and millet are highly unusual on not only lacquer pieces but all Chinese works of art, although the surrounding dragon and babao motifs are characteristic of Jiajing-period aesthetics.
The tray appears to be unique with no other similar example published to date. However we see an interesting parallel to a Jiajing-marked cinnabar lacquer dish of the same shape in the Palace Museum, Beijing (fig. 1). The Palace Museum dish is carved with four attributes of the Four Hevenly Kings in the Buddhist pantheon, namely sword, pipa, umbrella and snake, representing the four-character phrase feng tiao yu shun, 'Timely wind and rain', conveying the wish for favourable weather. Notably, the motifs on the present tray are relaying a similar message- the dragon candle and the Constellation of Three Stars can be interpreted as the Emperor's ritual offering to Heaven, while the millet and lotus are representative of harvest. Hence the tray is also conveying the similar wish for feng tiao yu shun, in hopes of a good harvest, and was possibly made as part of the same series as the Palace Museum dish. The Palace Museum example is illustrated in Lacquer Wares of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2006, pl. 126.