Lot 2927. A very rare wucai ‘Dragon and prunus’ rectangular box and cover, Wanli six-character mark in a line in underglaze blue within a double rectangle and of the period (1573-1619); 13 in. (33 cm.) long. Estimate HKD 4,000,000 - HKD 6,000,000. Price realised HKD 4,925,000. © Christie's Image Ltd 2019.
The cover is decorated in brilliant enamels with a red and a green dragon contesting a flaming pearl amidst flames and clouds, the interior with a prunus branch enamelled in red and green underneath a crescent moon. The longer sides of the box are similarly decorated with a pair of dragons contesting flaming pearls, the shorter sides with a red leaping dragon. The foot of the box is moulded in relief with brackets enclosing cloud scrolls, the base inscribed with the reign mark.
Provenance: Mayuyama & Co. Ltd., Tokyo, acquired prior to 1976
An Important Asian Collection acquired in Tokyo, circa 2000.
Literature: Mayuyama, Seventy Years, Vol. 1, Tokyo, 1976, p. 310, no. 922 (fig. 1)
fig. 1 Mayuyama, Seventy Years, vol. I, Tokyo, 1976, p. 310
Note: The design featuring dragons on the exteriors and prunus on the interior of the cover, is highly unusual and only very few examples are known. The combination of ferocious five-clawed dragons, the ultimate symbol of Imperial authority, with the literary and poetic theme of prunus tree under a crescent moon, creates an interesting contrast but also befits its use as a stationery box for the imperial household.
A Wanli-marked box of almost identical design and shape was sold at Christie’s London, 16 June 1986, lot 75. Compare also to a smaller Wanli wucai box of similar shape, also on a stepped base, decorated on the exterior of the cover with figures in landscape, and on the interior with a single prunus tree, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1999, no. 39; and another Wanli wucai box decorated with dragons in bracket-lobed medallions on the cover, and on both sides of the box with flowers and bamboo, from the Umezawa Kinenkan Museum Collection, illustrated in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 14 – Ming, Tokyo, 1976, no. 207.