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Overall: 21 x 40.6 cm (8 1/4 x 16 in.); Lid: 8.5 x 40.6 cm (3 3/8 x 16 in.); Bottom: 12.5 x 40.6 cm (4 15/16 x 16 in.)
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 2011.34.b
This box is among the extremely rare and precious carved lacquer ware from the Song and early Yuan period and is arguably one of the most monumental and significant examples of the type. It exhibits extremely fine craftsmanship. To allow for the depth of carving, numerous layers of different colored lacquer were applied to a core of wood strengthened by a fabric covering impregnated with lacquer. Each layer was allowed to set before the next was applied, taking a long time to construct the lacquered body before the carving could begin.
Carved on top with two birds in flight against a floral ground and a band of spiral scrolls, it is a bold manifestation of the naturalistic and abstract approaches to carved lacquer decoration. The lively depiction of the subjects combined with the sinuous scrolls expresses the flux and freedom of nature.
Lacquer ware was always a valuable product in Chinese material culture and was often used as precious gifts in diplomatic, religious, and economic exchanges with other countries—Japan, for example, where this box was long preserved and acquired.
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