Previously sold in London, 21 February 1961, lot 277.
The present box and its companion in the National Palace Museum, Taibei, are the only two such examples recorded of this unique shape bearing Jingtai marks and of the period. For a discussion of the decorative style of the National Palace Museum box in relation to early cloisonné enamel wares and dating of the box to the Jingtai period, see Zhang Linshen, Gugong Wenwu Yuekan, 1986, no. 41. For other illustrations of the National Palace box, cf. Enamel Ware in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties, the National Palace Museum, 1999, front cover and p. 66, no. 1; Great National Treasures of China, National Palace Museum, 1993, no. 70; W. Fong and J. Wyatt, Possessing the Past, New York, 1996, pl. 254; and New History of World Art, Shogakukan, 1999, p. 231, no. 214.
It is interesting to note the sides of the box and cover, both are cast in relief to imitate the natural curve of lotus petals; when placed together the irregular sides mirror each other in their floral form. This arrangement of lotus petal bands can be compared to a Jingtai-marked cloisonné enamel alms bowl in the Pierre Uldry Collection, where the design is taken further in the staggering of the bands of petals so that the bowl resembles an open flower; see H. Brinker and A. Lutz, Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection, 1989, pl. 8. In both instances, the formation of each individual petal adds to the sculptural quality of the pieces, giving them also a naturalistic dimension to the otherwise stylised designs characteristic of early-mid Ming cloisonné enamels. Brinker and Lutz, ibid., p. 88, also liken the Jingtai petal designs to corresponding details on pieces from the first half of the 15th century, citing as examples, the spherical finial on the covers of two imperial jars, no. 5, and the encircling frieze on a short-necked vase, no. 9
The design of the lotus-seed pod on the top of the cover appears to be a popular motif in the enamellers' repertoire of this period. A ritual disc with a Xuande mark, from the collection of Sir Percival and Lady David, bears this design as the main decorative motif and shares the same colour scheme with the medallion on the present lot. The disc is illustrated by H. Garner, Chinese and Japanese Cloisonné Enamels, London, 1962, pl. 10A. Compare also the medallion on a Jingtai-marked dish from the early 15th century, illustrated by H. Brinker and A. Lutz, op. cit., pl. 10 and 10a.
The lotus-pod appears to be a popular ceramic decorative motif of the early Ming period, cf. decorating the interior medallion of an underglaze-blue dish on a Xuande-marked dish, illustrated in A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Hsuan-te Ware I, p. 116, no. 28; and the interior of an underglazed-blue bowl illustrated in Imperial Porcelain of the Yongle and Xuande Periods, Excavated from the Site of the Ming Imperial Factory at Jingdezhen, Hong Kong, 1989, no. 42.
Compare also the typical pointed floral and foliage petals rendered on cloisonné ware of the early 15th century, such as the bowl dated to Yongle/Xuande period, sold in these Rooms, 2 November 1999, lot 798, and the bottle vase in the British Museum, included in the exhibition, Reben-Zhongguo Meishu Minbin Zhan, Tokyo National Museum, 1987, and illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 158, no. 121.