An extremely rare carved cinnabar lacquer ‘Dragon’ dish, Mark and period of Longqing. Estimate 300,000 — 400,000 HKD. Photo Sotheby’s.
of circular form, with shallow everted sides supported on a short tapered foot, carved through rich layers of cinnabar lacquer to the ochre ground below, the interior with a central medallion enclosing a five-clawed dragon writhing amongst ruyi-shaped clouds reaching for a ‘flaming pearl’, all within a double-line border and a foliate lotus scroll encircling the cavetto, the underside similarly decorated with a scroll of hibiscus, between a ribbed mouth rim and key-fret band around the foot, the base lacquered red and inscribed in the centre with a six-character incised vertical reign mark with traces of gilt; 16.3 cm., 6 3/8 in.
PROVENANCE: Keitaku Takagi (K. T. Lee).
EXHIBITED: 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1993, cat. no. 67.
Layered Beauty: The Baoyizhai Collection of Chinese Lacquer, Art Museum, Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2010, cat. no. 45.
LITERATURE: Lee King-tsi and Hu Shih-chang, ‘Inscriptions on Ming Lacquer’, Bulletin of the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, vol. 10, 1992-4, p. 32, figs. 10 a and b.
Notes: Longqing (1567-72) lacquer wares are extremely rare, scarcer than Longqing porcelains. Stylistically the decorative concepts of the Jiajing era (1522-66) still provided the guiding principles and this continued even into the Wanli period (1573-1620). Most likely the skilled and experienced craftsmen employed for the creation of imperial works of art remained active beyond the change of Emperors and continued projects which could take years to complete, such as carved lacquer ware. Lee King-tsi and Hu Shi-chang have closely observed this continuation across three reign periods. In a study of reign marks on Ming lacquer ware they have remarked that “the bases of late Jiajing, Longqing and early Wanli pieces are lacquered red and the reign marks are engraved and gilded vertically in six characters” and have supported this with a comparison of very similarly written reign marks of the three periods (Lee King-tsi and Hu Shih-chang, ‘Inscriptions on Ming Lacquer’, Bulletin of the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, vol. 10, 1992-4, p. 31, fig. 9). Red instead of the usual black-lacquered bases are otherwise extremely rare on lacquer ware.
Only the most important official wares appear to have been commissioned in this reign: pieces adorned with five-clawed dragons. Other carved lacquer pieces of Longqing mark and period include a companion piece to this dish, with the dragon reversed, from the Lee Family collection in the Institute of Oriental Lacquer, Tokyo, illustrated in Zhongguo qiqi quanji[Complete series on Chinese lacquer], Fuzhou, 1993-8, vol. 5, pl. 130; and a dish depicting the central dragon with its head turned back, and pairs of striding dragons around the inner and outer sides, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. R.H.R. Palmer, sold at Christie’s London, 14th December 1983, lot 58, and later also the Lee Family collection, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 3rd December 2008, lot 2130. A five-lobed Longqing-marked box in the National Palace Museum, with a similar dragon but reversed, was included in the Museum’s exhibition He guang ti cai. Gugong cang qi/Carving the Subtle Radiance of Colors. Treasured Lacquerware in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2008, cat. no. 095; and a massive basin with a descending dragon in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Sir Harry Garner, Chinese Lacquer, London, 1979, pl. 87.
The close connection to dishes of the late Jiajing period becomes also apparent when comparing a dish of Jiajing mark and period from the collections of W.A. Evill and Mr and Mrs Myron S. Falk, offered at Christie’s New York, 16th October 2001, lot 225. On that dish the large dragon in the centre is accompanied by an auspicious shou [long life] character as is characteristic of the Jiajing reign, but the lingzhi scroll on the outside is very similar to that on the present dish.
Three other Longqing marked lacquer dishes are recorded with dragons inlaid in mother-of-pearl, but inscribed with a different reign mark, ending in the character zao [made] instead of zhi, and incorporating the characters yuyongjian [imperial workshop]. They may, however, not be products of the official workshops that would have produced the present dish, but may possibly be of Ryukyuan manufacture (Layered Beauty. The Baoyizhai Collection of Chinese Lacquer, Art Museum, Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2010, pp. 118/120). One of the dishes, in the Tokyo National Museum, is illustrated in Lee and Hu, ibid., p. 32, figs. 11a and b.
Sotheby’s. The Baoyizhai Collection of Chinese Lacquer, Part 2. Hong Kong | 08 oct. 2014, 11:00 AM