Lot 18. A rare cinnabar lacquer 'phoenix' box and cover, Song dynasty (960-1279); 21cm., 8 1/4 in. Sold 31,200 GBP (Estimate 10,000 - 20,000 GBP). © Sotheby's. 

of circular form, the top and straight sides of the cover finely and deeply carved through the red lacquer to the buff ground with a pair of phoenix in flight above a leafy composite floral scroll, the sides of the box similarly carved, the base and interior lacquered black.

NoteThe present box is an exceptional example of the meticulous craftsmanship and beautiful shapes and designs characteristic of Song lacquer pieces. The deep carving accentuates the fine flowing linearity of the phoenixes gracefully set amongst the exquisite scrolling peonies. Compare a similar box and cover attributed to the Song dynasty from the Engakuji Temple, Kamakura, Japan, published in D.Clifford, Chinese Carved Lacquer, London, 1992, p. 28; a black carved lacquer incense container included in the exhibition Chinese Carved Lacquerworks of the Song Dynasty, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo 2004, cat.no.23; and a circular tray illustrated in T. Lawton, Asian Art in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, 1987, no. 168, p. 256.

The elegant theme of paired birds surrounded by lush flowers and leaves introduced during the Song dynasty served as a prototype for the bold and dynamic designs of the Yuan period, during which the theme escalated in popularity. For a dish of very similar design of the Yuan period, exhibited at Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, Tokyo, see The Colours and Forms of Song and Yuan China: Featuring Lacquerwares, Ceramics, and Metalwares, Tokyo, 2004, cat. no. 86; compare also a 14th century lacquer box, decorated with different birds and signed Zhang Cheng, included in 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Oriental Ceramics Society, Hong Kong, 1993, no. 34.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works Of Art, London, 15 May 2007