with straight flared sides resting on a short wide foot, intricately carved to the interior with a main scene depicting three court ladies and their attendants carrying refreshments on a fenced terrace leading to an elaborately carved bridge over rippling waves, with four ducks skimming across the surface under the drooping branches of a willow tree beside a male and female pheasant perched amid rockwork issuing flowering camellia, prunus and lillies, the sides with a composite floral band with various blooms including peony, lotus, camellia, and lily blooms on leafy stems, the exterior with a guri spiral band, the base lacquered black inscribed with the characters Gong zhai in red, and incised Qi shou zao by the foot
Lacquer wares of the Song Dynasty are extremely rare and trays of this rectangular shape are most unusual. Although no other similar example appears to be published, a black lacquer tray carved with floral scoll decoration and signed by Qi Shou and another round lacquer dish decorated with qilong attributed to Qi Shou are recorded on the official website of the Tokyo National Museum, pl. no. TH-496 and pl. TH-494.
The inscription gongzhai can be translated as 'reverence for vegetarian diet'. It is a term associated with Buddhism and indicates the practice of abstinence from meat as a religious exercise. Gongzhai is associated with Buddhist ceremonies and ancestor worship. The inscription on this tray therefore possibly indicates the special use of this tray during ritual or worship practices. The black lacquer tray in the Tokyo National Museum mentioned above also appears to have the two characters gongzhai inscribed on its surface.
Trays of this shape became popular from the Yuan period; see an oblong tray carved with a hunting scene included in the exhibition So Gen no bi, Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, Tokyo, 2004, cat.no. 78, in the Tokugawa Art Museum collection.
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