Lot 39
  • 39

A LARGE FINELY CARVED POLYCHROME LACQUER ‘CHUN’ BOX AND COVER QIANLONG MARK AND PERIOD

Estimate
110,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • lacquer
  • 38 cm, 15 in. 
the cover finely and deeply carved through red, green, black and yellow layers with a circular panel enclosing the character chun (spring) centred with a medallion enclosing Shoulao and rising above a large bowl overflowing with auspicious emblemsreserved against red, green, brown and yellow radiating waves, all flanked by a pair of five-clawed scaly dragons amidst ruyi-head cloud scrolls and reserved on a wan-diaper ground, the rounded sides of the cover and box deeply carved with the bajixiang  and lobed cartouches centred with shou characters and flanked with bats on a dense ground of leafy lotus sprays, the interior and base lacquered black, the base gilt-inscribed with a six-character reign mark followed by a four-character inscription reading chunshou baohe ('precious box of spring and longevity’)

Catalogue Note

Finely crafted with a carefully composed auspicious design, the present vessel belongs to a group of boxes produced at the height of lacquer carving during the Qianlong period (r. 1736-1795).  Layer upon layer of lacquer has been patiently applied to build up a thick surface through which the craftsman has meticulously carved a plethora of textures of the different elements of the complex design, from the delicate softness of the petals and clouds, the naturalistic full central figure of Shoulao and the sway of his clothes, and the fine array of diaper patterns covering the ground. The artisan's virtuosity is further displayed through the compositional complexity and the variety of depths and angles from which the design emerges with vibrancy. 

According to the Zaobanchu Archives of the Qing Imperial Household Department, in the 11th month of the 8th year of the Qianlong reign (corresponding to 1743), four boxes of this type were presented to the Emperor, who ordered that they be inscribed with the four-character chunshou baohe ('precious box of spring and longevity') mark. The boxes were presented again and approved by the Emperor on the 27th day of the same month.

Although it is known that there were at least eighteen versions of chun boxes made during the Qianlong period, the present example is distinctive for the shou characters in the cartouches around the sides and no other closely related example appears to have been published. Boxes of this type, also inscribed with chunshou baohe on the base, but with figures in the side panels, include one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museum's Special Exhibition of Palace Lacquer Objects, Taipei, 1981, cat. no. 67; one from the Manno Art Museum, Osaka, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th October 2002, lot 568, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 11th April 2008, lot 2863; another exhibited in 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Art Gallery, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1993, cat. no. 76; and a larger example from the Avery Brundage Collection in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, illustrated in Sir Harry Garner, Chinese Lacquer, London, 1979, pl. 90. Another variation of circular chun boxes, carved with various flowers within the side cartouches, illustrated in Derek Clifford, Chinese Carved Lacquer, London 1992, pls 106a and 106b, was sold at Christie’s New York, 30th March 2005, lot 166; and another was sold at Christie’s London, 14th June 1982, lot 194.

The present box was likely made as a birthday gift or as a food container for the Chinese New Year of Spring Festival celebration. Its design is steeped in auspicious symbolism and derives from a Jiajing (r. 1522-66) original. The inscription chunshou baohe is composed of the chun and shou characters, which represent a wish for 'ten thousand longevities and eternal spring' (wanshou changchun), while bao ('treasure' or 'precious thing') refers to the contents of the box, which may be filled with gold and silver coins, ingots, gems, coral, pearls and other precious materials. Spring also represents renewal and the beginning of the New Year; hence boxes of this type were designed to convey the sentiment of longevity and renewal of life. For a Jiajing prototype, see one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Lacquer Wares of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, Hong Kong, 2006, pl. 134.

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