Examples of fine Song dynasty carved lacquer are extremely rare. This dish compares well with the few documented Song carved lacquer objects known.
The closest comparisons are with two very important Song dynasty carved lacquer vessels preserved in Japan. Both the style of the decoration and certain aspects of the technique of the current dish are particularly close to a domed incense box from the Engaku-ji in Kamakura, 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. 51, pl. 64a. This box is traditionally believed to have been one of the pieces of Chinese lacquer recorded in the inventory of A.D. 1363 as having been brought to Japan by the Chinese monk, Xu Ziyuan (A.D. 1226-86) who arrived in Kamakura in 1279. If this identification is correct, and there is good reason to believe that it is, the box would date to the Southern Song dynasty. While the Engaku-ji box is decorated with peacock and peahen among peonies, the overall style, the sweeping necks of the birds, the precision with which the pin feathers are depicted, the treatment of the leaves and flower heads with no turned-over edges, and the proportionately greater amount of bare ground left between the elements, all suggest a close relationship between the Engaku-ji box and the present dish. The treatment of the chrysanthemum flowers and their leaves on the current dish is additionally very close to that seen in the cavetto of a dish from the Engaku-ji, illustrated ibid., p. 51, pl. 64b, which is also believed to have been brought to Kamakura by Xu Ziyuan in 1279. Aspects of the chrysanthemum flowers and leaves on the current dish can also be related to those in the cavetto of a dish dated to the Song dynasty in the Tokyo National Museum, illustrated by D. Clifford, Chinese Carved Lacquer, London, 1992, p. 27, pl. 13.
The existence of Song dynasty carved lacquer was confirmed as early as 1957 with the publication of a carved lacquer box bearing on its base an inscription reading Zhenghe nian zhi, 'Made in the Zhenghe Period' (A.D. 1111-1117) and on the interior of its lid a seal mark reading Guan bao, 'Palace Treasure'. This box is illustrated by S. Shi, Qi lin zhi xiao lu, 'A short note on lacquer inscriptions', Wenwu, no. 7, 1957, pp. 56-57.
Song carved lacquers of this type provided the prototypes for the better known Yuan carved lacquers. A similar design of two long-necked birds with chrysanthemums is carved on a black lacquer dish, dated by Sir John Figgess to the Yuan dynasty, in the Detroit Institute of Arts, illustrated in 'A Masterpiece of Chinese Carved Lacquerware', Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Winter, 1981, vol. 59, nos. 1/2, p. 66, fig. 1. The Detroit example depicts long-beaked, long-legged cranes, while the present example shows short-beaked birds, short-legged birds, possibly geese. The detailing of the feathers on both pairs of birds is executed in a similar style.
Even closer in carving style to the present dish is a box with a decoration of two herons amongst hibiscus on the upper surface of the lid, which was included in the exhibition, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, 1993, Oriental Ceramics Society of Hong Kong and the Art Gallery of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 34. This box which has been dated to the Yuan dynasty bears an incised mark reading Zhang Cheng zao (made by Zhang Cheng) and a red hPhags-pa inscription reading Yang ji (the mark or shop of Yang) on both the base and the cover. Zhang Cheng was one of the most famous Yuan dynasty lacquer carvers and hPhags-pa was the script, based on Tibetan, devised to write Mongolian during the Yuan dynasty and abandoned shortly thereafter.