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Covered box with flowers
Place of Origin: China
Historical Period: Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Reign of the Yongle emperor (1403-1424)
Materials: Red lacquer with carved designs
Dimensions: H. 3 1/4 in x Diam. 9 1/2 in, H. 8.3 cm x Diam. 24.1cm
Credit Line: The Avery Brundage Collection
Department: Chinese Art
Collection: Decorative Arts
Object Number: B60M309.a-.b
On Display: No

Description

Label:

This covered box is representative of a type created in great numbers during the reigns of the Yongle and Xuande emperors. Like many designs of the early Ming dynasty, precedents for the floral décor are to be found in works created at the Southern Song court. Song examples are most often paintings or ceramics; it was in the early Ming that these designs were fully explored in carved lacquer.

In the base of this piece is incised a six-character mark reading Da Ming Yongle nian zhi, indicating it was created at the lacquer workshops during the reign of the Yongle emperor. Court records tell us that the Yongle emperor summoned well-known lacquer workers from Jiangnan to the imperial palace workshops, that these workers were granted official titles, and that an official workshop known as the Guoyuan chang (Orchard Workshop) was established. However, as noted in the introductory essay to this section, there is some question about the actual function of the Guoyuan chang in the early years of the dynasty.

In order to make possible the deeply carved designs in lacquers like this box, the object first had to be covered with a large number of thin layers of lacquer— in a piece like this perhaps as many as one hundred layers. Each layer had to cure thoroughly and be lightly polished before the next layer could be applied. In order to cure properly, lacquer must be kept in a stable environment with consistently warm temperatures (21– 27°C) and high humidity (75 – 85 percent). Creating a piece with a hundred layers could require as much as a year or more of this consistent environment. Climatological studies indicate that Beijing was cold and dry during much of the Ming dynasty, and it is highly unlikely that any building in that city could have maintained the required environment for lacquer to cure. The same studies show that the Jiangnan area along the lower reaches of the Yangzi River, where the lacquer workshops of the Song and Yuan dynasties were located, was humid and temperate. It seems likely that the workshops of the early Ming, where the elaborately carved lacquers were created, remained in the Jiangnan region. The Guoyuan chang might have served as a warehouse for storing these lacquers once they were shipped to Beijing. It is also possible that the elaborate blanks were created in the Jiangnan area and shipped to Beijing where the designs were carved.


More Information

Exhibition History: Power and Glory: Court Arts of China's Ming Dyasty, June 2008 - Sept. 2008
"The Hundred Flowers: Botanical Motifs in Chinese Art", Asian Art Museum, March 24-June 25, 1985
Label:

This covered box is representative of a type created in great numbers during the reigns of the Yongle and Xuande emperors. Like many designs of the early Ming dynasty, precedents for the floral décor are to be found in works created at the Southern Song court. Song examples are most often paintings or ceramics; it was in the early Ming that these designs were fully explored in carved lacquer.

In the base of this piece is incised a six-character mark reading Da Ming Yongle nian zhi, indicating it was created at the lacquer workshops during the reign of the Yongle emperor. Court records tell us that the Yongle emperor summoned well-known lacquer workers from Jiangnan to the imperial palace workshops, that these workers were granted official titles, and that an official workshop known as the Guoyuan chang (Orchard Workshop) was established. However, as noted in the introductory essay to this section, there is some question about the actual function of the Guoyuan chang in the early years of the dynasty.

In order to make possible the deeply carved designs in lacquers like this box, the object first had to be covered with a large number of thin layers of lacquer— in a piece like this perhaps as many as one hundred layers. Each layer had to cure thoroughly and be lightly polished before the next layer could be applied. In order to cure properly, lacquer must be kept in a stable environment with consistently warm temperatures (21– 27°C) and high humidity (75 – 85 percent). Creating a piece with a hundred layers could require as much as a year or more of this consistent environment. Climatological studies indicate that Beijing was cold and dry during much of the Ming dynasty, and it is highly unlikely that any building in that city could have maintained the required environment for lacquer to cure. The same studies show that the Jiangnan area along the lower reaches of the Yangzi River, where the lacquer workshops of the Song and Yuan dynasties were located, was humid and temperate. It seems likely that the workshops of the early Ming, where the elaborately carved lacquers were created, remained in the Jiangnan region. The Guoyuan chang might have served as a warehouse for storing these lacquers once they were shipped to Beijing. It is also possible that the elaborate blanks were created in the Jiangnan area and shipped to Beijing where the designs were carved.


Exhibition History: Power and Glory: Court Arts of China's Ming Dyasty, June 2008 - Sept. 2008
"The Hundred Flowers: Botanical Motifs in Chinese Art", Asian Art Museum, March 24-June 25, 1985