Cricket fighting is a traditional game with a long history in China. Enthusiasm for this activity reached new heights in the Ming dynasty, with an observer noting that on the death of one enthusiast’s prized cricket, 'he made a silver coffin' for the insect in the form of a Buddhist reliquary. Porcelain cricket cages in barrel form, but with recessed covers, were first made for the Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-35), as discussed in Liu Xinyuan, Ming Xuande guanyao xishuai guan [Xuande period cricket jars from the Ming imperial kilns], Taipei, 1995. Cricket fights were popular during the Wanli period, especially in Beijing and southern China. A variety of imperial porcelain cricket cages from the Wanli period are illustrated in line drawings in Geng Baochang, Ming Qing ciqi jiandin [Appraisal of Ming and Qing Porcelains], Hong Kong, 1993, fig. 264.
While no other boxes of identical size and decoration to the present example appear to be known, related examples of this form include one in the Shanghai Museum of slightly smaller size, decorated with dragon motifs illustrated in Chugoku Toji Zenshu, vol. 21, Kyoto, 1981, pl. 41; another of this type, but without its cover, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is illustrated in Suzanne Valenstein, The Herzman Collection of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1992, cat. no.85. For an underglaze blue example of this type, see one from the C. P. Lin Collection illustrated in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration. Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain, London, 1992, cat. no. 90. A wucai box and cover with figural decoration, formerly in the Jingguantang Collection of T.T. Tsui, is illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 4, London, 1994, no. 1704, and sold at Christie’s London, 15th November 2000, lot 32, and twice in in our Hong Kong rooms, 13th November 1990, lot 149, and 7th April 2011, lot 70. Compare also a box and cover with ‘mythical beast’ decoration that sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 5th October 2016, lot 110.
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