A Rare wucai Sweetmeat Box And Cover. Wanli Six-Character Mark In Underglaze Blue Within A Double-Circle And Of The Period (1573--1619)Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012

The domed cover is painted around the bud-form finial with opposed dragons in underglaze blue and iron red chasing flaming pearls amidst crashing waves rendered in green enamel, above a band of flowers and rockwork repeated on the sides of the box. The interior is divided into seven lobed compartments forming a large flowerhead and painted en suite with butterflies amidst flowers and rockwork. The whole is raised on a short foot encircled by a band of key fret beneath a lappet border; 9 5/16 in. (23.6 cm.) diam. Estimate $80,000 - $120,000

Provenance: Property from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. William L. Corbin 


ExhibitedSelections from the William and Winifred Corbin Collection of Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, Portland Art Museum, 1 - 29 March 1964, no. 43. 

Notes: This rare wucai box and cover demonstrates the exuberance of color and design seen among imperial polychrome porcelains in the Wanli period. The balance between the underglaze blue and the red, green and yellow enamels is used to good effect, producing a design that is at once harmonious and lively.

The interior of the box is particularly attractive, and is divided into S-shaped compartments suggestive of a six-petalled flower radiating from a central lobed compartment. The use of S-shaped petals to suggest floral forms on ceramics is evident as early as the Northern Song dynasty, and can be seen on a Ruyao cup stand in the collection of the Percival David Foundation. See R. Scott, Imperial Taste - Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, San Francisco, 1989, p. 37, no. 13.

Round boxes of this type, with bud-shaped finials, found considerable favor in the Wanli reign, and a very similar box and cover is in the collection of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, illustrated in In Pursuit of the Dragon - Traditions and Transitions in Ming Ceramics, Seattle, 1988, p. 131, no. 64. A blue and white example of this form, although with slightly different decoration, is illustrated ibid., p. 130, no. 63. Another wucai box of similar form, but with a single register of phoenix and dragon on the cover, is in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum, illustrated in Imperial Overglaze-Enamelled Wares in the Late Ming Dynasty, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1995, p. 23, no. 30. A third wucai box and cover, of this form and decoration, in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, is illustrated in Sekai Toji Zenshu - 14 - Ming Dynasty Tokyo, 1976, p. 107, no. 109.

See, also, the Wanli-marked wucai box and cover, of the same form, although painted with scholars in underglaze blue, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 31 May 2010, lot 1992; and another similar example is illustrated in Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1976, p. 310, no. 921. 

Christie'sFine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Part I. 13 - 14 September 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza