Previously sold at Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., Hong Kong, 9 October 1957, no. 190.
This unusual irregular form with its compressed sides is taken from a silver ingot, a tradable currency during the Ming and Qing periods. Its shape appeared in early lacquerwares, cf. a Song dynasty mother-of-pearl inlaid box from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, illustrated in Hai-wai Yi-chen, Chinese Art in Overseas Collections, Lacquerware, Taiwan, 1987, p. 39; another in the Tokugawa Art Museum, dated to the Ming 15th/16th century, illustrated in East Asian Urushi Lacquer Work with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay, 1999, p.33; and a Jiajing-dated qiangjin and tianqi-decorated box, illustrated, Treasures of The Imperial Palace, Forbidden Palace Press, 1995, no. 43. Ingot-shaped boxes also appeared in ceramic form during the mid-Ming dynasty, for an example see a Jiajing-marked blue and white box illustrated in Gugong Wenwu Jinghua Baipinzhan (II), National Palace Museum, Taiwan, no. 20.
Ingot-shaped boxes of conventional form continued in production into the Qing period, such as the cinnabar-red lacquer box included in the exhibition, Chinese Lacquerware, the Shoto Museum, Tokyo, illustrated, no. 79, carved with foreigners in a landscape scene. By the Qianlong period the design of these boxes became more inventive with the addition of multiple tiers for storage, as can be seen in the present example. A closely related ingot-shaped tiered box decorated with infilled lacquer, tianqi, and fitted with an additional cinnabar-red lacquer openwork casing, formerly from the Brundage collection and now in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated by H. Garner, Chinese Lacquer, London, 1979, pl. 91; and illustrated again, op. cit., Taiwan, 1987, p. 168. Another ingot-shaped box, also with a casing, supported on a cabriole stand is illustrated in Carved Lacquer in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Taiwan, 1985, no. 349. Both the Brundage and the National Palace Museum boxes are modelled with six peripheral columns in the same style as the present lot.
Furthermore, the composition of objects carved on the upper-surface of the Brundage box is very similar to the present example. These auspicious images are symbolic references to Spring, and were sometimes combined with antique objects as collective design elements on carved lacquerwares such as the miniature cabinet in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo Qiqi Quanji, Fujian Meishu Chubanshe, 1993, vol. 6, Qing, no. 230; and within cartouches of a polychrome lacquer vase in the Victoria and Albert Musuem, illustrated in Catalogue of Chinese Lacquer, pl. XXVII.