Lot 3011. An extremely rare carved yellow and red lacquer ‘dragon’ dish, Wanli period (1573-1619), 8 7/8 in. (22.3 cm.) diam. Estimate HKD 1,500,000 - HKD 2,500,000 (USD 193,486 - USD 322,476) © Christie’s Images Limited 2017.

The shallow dish is superbly carved on the interior through the gold-flecked brownish-yellow outer layer to the red ground with a large central medallion depicting two powerful dragons, one ascending, one descending amidst clouds on either side of a flaming pearl. The dragons’ scales are finely detailed contouring their bodies, and they are depicted above turbulent waves breaking against jagged rocks emerging from the sea, all against undulating sea diaper and geometric sky diaper, contained within a lobed quatrefoil border surrounded by peony sprays. The cavetto is deeply carved with four shaped panels, each enclosing three lotus blooms, separated by beribboned lozenges containing wan symbols. The exterior is similarly carved with continuous, dense flowering lotus meander. The base is lacquered red. Some of the digits on the claws of the dragons were later removed. Japanese wood box

ProvenanceA Japanese private collection, acquired in the 1970s

NoteThe Japanese wood box is inscribed with two names, Kyogetsu-an and Shohu-an, which appear to be pseudonyms for tea ceremony masters during the Edo period (1603-1867).

The present dish belongs to an extremely rare group of dishes dating to the late Ming period predominantly decorated in brownish-yellow lacquer. All known examples from this group display the very highest standard of workmanship and for centuries have been held in extremely high regard among collectors of lacquer. Most extant examples of this group are either in the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, or the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Three yellow and red lacquer pieces in the National Palace Museum Taipei were included in the exhibition, Carving the Subtle Radiance of Colors: Treasured Lacquer Ware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2008, nos. 91, 97 and 100. These include a circular dish with a dragon and phoenix, a circular dish with a single dragon, and a rectangular tray with a pair of confronted dragons, respectively. Also in the exhibition is a red lacquer dish of very similar design to the present example, carved with one dragon in ascent, the other in descent, see no. 96. A nearly identical dish to no. 91 from the aforementioned exhibition is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Lacquer Wares of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2006, p. 211, no. 168; and one very similar to no. 97 is in the Sir Harry and Lady Garner Collection, and included in the 1957 Oriental Ceramics Society Exhibition, Arts of the Ming Dynasty, pl. 264, and in the 1973 British Museum exhibition of Chinese and Associated Lacquer from the Garner Collection, London, illustrated, pl. 32a, no. 73.   

Yellow lacquer is also very highly prized in Japan, and a number of examples of similar design to the present dish were preserved in private collections, including a dish with a single ascending dragon from the Kaisendo Museum Collection, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 1 June 2011, lot 3572. Compare also to a similar three-coloured cinnabar lacquer box of Wanli period from the collection of Sakamoto Goro, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 160, and a yellow lacquer rectangular tray with similar decoration from the Kenzo Hasegawa Collection, sold at Sotheby’s New York, 16-17 September 2014, lot 548. 


An important three-coloured cinnabar lacquer 'dragon' box and cover, mark and period of Wanli, dated to the renchen year (in accordance with 1592), from the collection of Sakamoto Goro. Sold 4,840,000 HKD at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 160. Photo: Sotheby's. 

Cf. my post An important three-coloured cinnabar lacquer 'dragon' box and cover, mark and period of Wanli, dated to the renchen year)


An extremely rare 'imperial-yellow dragon' polychrome lacquer box and cover, Wanli mark and period, dated to the yiwei year, corresponding to 1595. Lot sold 329,000 USD at Sotheby's New York, 16th/17th September 2014, lot 548. Photo Sotheby's.

(Cf. my post An extremely rare 'imperial-yellow dragon' polychrome lacquer box and cover, Wanli mark and period, dated to the yiwei year)

Christie's. The Imperial Sale / Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 31 May 2017, Convention Hall, Hong Kong