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Lot 42. A small inlaid zitan circular incense box and cover, School of Zhou Zhu, Yangzhou, Late Ming–Early Qing Dynasty7.3 cm, 2 7/8  inEstimate 250,000 — 300,000 HKD. Lot sold 3,440,000 HKD (442,797 USD). Photo Sotheby's

of circular form, the sides tapering in at the base towards the low circular footrim, with slightly raised band around rims of the box and cover, the domed cover embellished with a verdant branch bearing clusters of lychee, each carved with a diapered ground, rendered in malachite, soapstone and mother-of-pearl

Provenance: Sotheby’s Olympia, 17th July 2003, lot 433.
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London.

This exquisite box is possibly one of the smallest of a group of inlaid wooden boxes that was pioneered in the mid-Ming dynasty and continued into the Qing. The complex inlaying technique has been produced in the style of master carver, Zhou Zhu, who also developed this style of inlay. Known for his many talents, Zhou’s works are distinguished by the use of a broad range of materials and the complexity of the inlay itself that created three-dimensional designs with an eye-catching effect. Although the impeccable artistry and technical quality of this box, as well as the use of figured malachite, would suggest a Zhou Zhu attribution, it is perhaps more likely that as he inspired a centuries-long tradition of such wares this box is the product of a skilled Yangzhou artist working in the local style originally inspired by Zhou. 

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