The screen is decorated with a carefully selected and auspicious design of ‘hundred birds courting the phoenix’ (bainiao chaohuang or bainiao chaofeng), or ‘hundred birds paying homage to the king’ (bainiao chaowang). As the phoenix is the king of birds, this motif illustrates the ‘Picture of the Five Relationships (luxutu, wuluntu): the cranes represent the relationship between father and son; mandarin ducks the relationship between husband and wife; wagtails the relationship between brothers; and the relationship between friends is represented by the orioles.
A slightly smaller undated screen decorated with this theme, from the C.T. Loo collection, is illustrated in Michel Beurdeley, Chinese Furniture, Tokyo, 1979, col. pl. 184; another was sold in our New York rooms, 7th/8th April 1988, lot 445; a third, from the collection of the Countess of Bismarck, was sold in our Monaco rooms, 30th November 1986, lot 739; and a further example from the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, was sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2008, lot 383. Although Coromandel lacquer screens were made mainly for the domestic and export markets, a small number of screens also entered the imperial collection, such as an eight-panel screen decorated on one side with birds and flowers, and on the reverse with figures, illustrated in A Treasury of Ming & Qing Dynasty Palace Furniture, Beijing, 2007, pl. 377, together with a twelve-panel example with figures, pl. 378.
Large Coromandel screens of this type were made from the late Ming period, although their popularity grew in the Kangxi reign. Highly expensive and laborious to produce, these screens were often commissioned by wealthy merchants as birthday gifts and made at centres in Jiangsu, Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangxi province.
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