The ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi was the founder of Daoism. His personal name usually given as Li Er, he was claimed by the Tang emperors, themselves of the surname Li, to also be the founder of their lineage. According to Shiji [Records of the Grand Historian], Li Er, also known as Lao Dan (Lao or venerable being a honorific title), was the Keeper of the Archives for the royal court of Zhou before venturing to the west to live as a hermit, disappearing entirely from public view ever since. The Liexian Zhuan [Biographies of Immortals] recounts the story of Laozi's arrival at the western frontier where he was intercepted by Yin Xi, the Guardian of the Pass who, recognising Laozi, asked him to write down his ideas; this produced the two volumes of Daode Jing or Scripture of the Tao and its Virtue. Surrounded by ruyi-shaped clouds and flowers of all seasons, this particular tray presents a fantastical, otherworldly depiction of Laozi en route to the Hangu Pass before the historic encounter.
Compare a Jiajing mark and period lacquer dish of similar form, carved with a large fu character in the centre and four dragons in cartouches encircling the cavetto, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Lacquer Wares of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, Shanghai, 2006, no. 120. See also two lacquer dishes attributed to the 16th century, the first carved with four lions in the centre encircled by floral scrolls on the cavetto, in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, illustrated in Hu Shih-chang and Jane Wilkinson, Chinese Lacquer, Edinburgh, 1998, pl. 23; and the other, carved with a scholar and his attendant in a landscape setting with river, trees, pavilion and mountains, from the collection of Edward T. Chow, sold at Christie's London, 14th December 1983, lot 32.
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