A RARE AND FINELY CARVED CINNABAR LACQUER DISH
YONGLE MARK AND PERIOD
明永樂 剔紅賞石圖橢圓盤 《大明永樂年製》款
of oval shape, the shallow rounded sides with a lipped rim, finely carved to the centre through layers of deep red lacquer with two scholars beneath a wutong tree on a balustraded terrace contemplating a flowering plant issuing from a tall scholar's rock in an ornate jardiniere, with a young attendant preparing tea inside a pavilion, framed by leafy trees and swaying bamboo, with cloud scrolls above rippling waves, the cavetto and the exterior decorated with an array of flowers including peonies, chrysanthemums, mallows, lotus and hibiscus flowers, the base lacquered black and incised with a six-character reign mark to the left side
Length 22.5 cm, 8⅞ in.
The dish has several hairline age cracks running vertically through the central oval cartouche, rim and footrim, with very minor associated flakes and lacquer loss.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
This piece belongs to a very rare group of lacquer dishes with incised Yongle reign marks, which effortlessly bridge the bold designs of the 14th century with the delicate carvings of the Ming period. This piece is particularly notable for the masterful and sensitive execution of the scene: the two gentlemen are depicted conversing, their gestures and facial expressions convincingly expressing their ease, while an attendant sits in a pavilion, his arms crossed while he awaits for the right moment to serve tea. A vigorously carved composite floral scroll sets the scene, while delicately incised geometric patterns, which define the sky, water and ground, highlight the figures and their movements.
Dishes of this type commanded imperial sponsorship or patronage, as they were extremely costly and time-consuming to produce. The sap required to be filtered and heat-treated before being applied to a wooden core with a brush. The limited duration of seasonal humidity required for each layer to dry, before repeated applications could build sufficient thickness for the design to be carved, meant that each vessel could take several years to complete. During the Yongle reign a lacquer workshop, known as the Orchard Factory, Guoyuan chang, was established in Beijing and continued to operate until 1436. Headed by the master carvers Zhang Degang, the son of the famous lacquer carver Zhang Cheng, and Bao Liang, and staffed with the most skilled lacquer craftsmen from Yunnan and Sichuan, this workshop produced luxurious lacquer ware for the imperial court, Craig Clunas, Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming. 50 Years that Changed China, British Museum, London, 2014, p. 101.
Oval dishes with Yongle incised marks and of the period and very rare, although two related examples are known: the first, carved with a group of scholars playing chess, in the Institute of Eastern Lacquerware, Tokyo, is illustrated in Zhongguo meishu fenlei quanji. Zhongguo qiqi quanji [The complete collection of Chinese lacquerware], vol. 5, Fuzhou, 1995, pl. 21; and the second, with a Xuande reign mark superimposed on a Yongle mark, from the collection of Sir Harry and Lady Garner, was included in the exhibition Chinese and Associated Lacquer from the Garner Collection, British Museum, London, 1973, cat. no. 43. See also an oval dish, also with a Xuande mark over a Yongle mark and with the design in a lobed cartouche, in the Tokyo National Museum, included in the museum’s exhibition Oriental Lacquer Arts, Tokyo, 1977, cat. no. 501.
此類盤費工耗時，製作成本高昂，故此需由宮廷御製。提取漆汁後，尚需過濾、加熱，再須層層髹漆至木胎之上，每髹一層，需時日待乾，而且每年適合之季候濕度有限， 反復無數，至相當厚度，方可始雕，故此每器均需經年製作。永樂年間， 宮廷於北京設果園廠，製作漆器，至1436年方止。果園廠由張德剛（其父為元代漆器名家張成）以及包亮監督，羅致雲南及四川漆器能匠，為宮廷製作華麗漆器（Craig Clunas，Jessica Harrison-Hall, 《明：盛世皇朝50年》，大英博物館，倫敦，2014年，頁101）。
刻永樂款之永樂年橢圓盤甚為鮮見，唯可比較兩例，其一刻劃文士博弈，東方漆藝研究所藏，載於《中國美術分類全集·中國漆器全集》，卷5，福州，1995年，圖版21；其二出自Sir Harry and Lady Garner伉儷收藏，該盤先刻永樂款，上覆宣德款，曾展於《Chinese and Associated Lacquer from the Garner Collection》，大英博物館，倫敦，1973年，編號43。另見一葵式盤例，亦為宣德款覆蓋永樂款，現存於東京國立博物館，曾展於《東洋漆工藝》，東京，1977年，編號501。