The present dish belongs to a distinct group of carved lacquer pieces known as 'two-bird' dishes. Although the species of birds and flowers vary from dish to dish, they are usually invariably decorated with the same compositional layout of a pair of birds in flight against a floral background, and have on the back a classic scroll. About twenty such dishes are known to exist in private collections, and they represent the culmination of a style of carving developed over a century, from the late Song period to the early Ming period. Of exceptionally high quality, these 'two-bird' dishes are discussed in detail by H. Garner, Chinese Lacquer, London, 1979, pp. 104-105, where three dishes are illustrated, fig. 43, a black lacquer dish with two pheasants amidst hibiscus, from the Honolulu Academy of Arts; fig. 44, another black lacquer dish with two water-fowls against a ground of lotus and other water-plants, from the British Museum; and fig. 45, a red lacquer dish with two peacocks and tree peonies, also from the British Museum.
The present dish is among the most striking examples of carved cinnabar lacquer from the early Ming period. Most dishes carved with the 'two-bird' motif are circular in shape, and it is unusual to find one that has lobed rims. Compare the decoration with other dishes, one included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, East Asian Lacquer, The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection, New York, 1991, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 19 and on the front cover; and several included in the Tokugawa Art Museum and Nezu Institute of Fine Arts exhibition, Carved Lacquer, 1984, illustrated in the Catalogue, nos. 37-44, where the composition of no. 44 compares most closely with the present dish, and where no. 41 shows a black lacquer dish with an eight-lobed rim.
Cf. also a precursor to these 'two-bird' dishes, a 13th-century circular tray carved with a pair of geese in flight amidst chrysanthemum branches, from An Important Collection of Early Chinese Lacquers, sold in these Rooms, 30 April 2001, lot 629.