A massive Cinnabar Lacquer 'dragon' box and cover. Late Ming dynasty. Photo Sotheby's
of circular form supported on a wide foot, the flat cover superbly carved in relief with a fiveclawed en face dragon encircling a 'flaming pearl', its scaly body writhing amid clouds above turbulent rolling waves against a meticulously carved diaper ground, further encircled on the sides by a band of clouds in the form of ruyi and six lobed panels, each enclosing a ferocious dragon undulating in pursuit of a 'flaming pearl', the box similarly decorated with six lobed panels enclosing dragons, the rim decorated with a key-fret border repeated at the foot, the recessed base incised with an apocryphal six-character mark of Xuande; 69 cm., 27 1/8 in. Estimation 10,000,000-12,000,000 HKD. Unsold
PROVENANCE: Formely in the collection of the Fujii Yurinkan Museum, Kyoto.
LITTERATURE: Fujii Zensuke, Yurin Taikan, vol. 3 (gen), Kyoto, 1942.
NOTE DE CATALOGUE: The present finely carved lacquer box is striking for its magnificent size; the only example known of such impressive
proportions made in the Ming dynasty. It is a tour de force of the genre, a testament to the high level of technical and artistic skills of Ming artisans commissioned by the court to produce a container of unrivalled dimensions and decoration. The design of a five-clawed front-facing scaly dragon on a lacquer box of this period is also unusual, although a lacquer folding chair in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated in Sir Harry Garner, Chinese Lacquer, London, 1979, pl. 82, is carved with a similar dragon on the splat. Interestingly, the chair is also incised with an apocryphal six-character Xuande mark. Derek Clifford in Chinese Carved Lacquer, London, 1992, p. 98, notes on the chair that the 'forward-facing dragon and the tripartite rocks with breaking waves urge a Jiajing date'. The chair may have served as the blueprint for the dragon design on this piece. The dragon design is better known from early Ming blue and white ceramics; for example, see a Jiajing mark and period dish with a central large front-facing dragon among flowers on a yellow ground, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (II), Shanghai, 2000, pl. 234.
In its form, this box is after smaller early 15th century lacquer containers carved with a sinuous dragon leaping amidst lotus plants on the central panel; such as the Xuande cinnabar lacquer box sold in our London rooms, 10th December 1991, lot 63, the decoration set against a yellow-ground with the sides also carved with bands of dragons among scrolling lotus. Another smaller box of this type with the dragon design is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Lacquer Wares of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, Hong Kong, 2006, pl. 135, fashioned in three-colour lacquer; and one was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 28th October 2002, lot 596, bearing a gilt incised six-character Jiajing mark. Two five-clawed dragons can be found on the cover of a polychrome lacquer box of this form, dated to 1595, included in the exhibition 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, the Art Gallery, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1993, cat. no. 68; on a box with a Wanli reign mark and of the period, from the Krolik collection, sold in our London rooms 24th February 1970, lot 79; and on a third example, illustrated in Fritz Low-Beer, 'Chinese Lacquer of the Ming Period', B.M.F.E.A., Stockholm, no. 24, 1952, pl. 21, no. 84, from his own collection.
Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art. Hong Kong | 04 avr. 2012 www.sothebys.com