Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, possibly 16th century
Black lacquer on wood core with mother-of-pearl inlay and leaded brass wire
H x W x D: 3.7 x 16.5 x 39.1 cm (1 7/16 x 6 1/2 x 15 3/8 in)
Credit Line
Gift of The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Container, Lacquer


bamboo, China, dragonfly, duck, landscape, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), peony, pine tree, rabbit, river, waterfall, WWII-era provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable

This tray is remarkable both for its use of twisted brass wire (tarnished and now difficult to see) along both edges of the side walls and for its unusual design rendered in shell. Use of shell to decorate lacquer ware has a long history, but complex pictorial designs such as this arose in the fourteenth century when artisans learned to fully exploit the luster and iridescence of thin pieces of shell. While some scholars think this tray dates to the fourteenth century, it seems more likely, especially because of the use of brass wire, to be a fifteenth-century work.

Inlaid lacquer was highly sought after during the Ming dynasty despite the fact that some texts decried it as too ornate to be tasteful. A landscape scene like this could have been used in a scholar's study and the tray might have sat on a desk to hold a small handscroll or sundry objects.

The details of the design include a pierced garden rock incised with two mandarin ducks (near the rock's base) and a dragonfly near the top.  A recumbent animal, probably a wild hare, sits near the base of the rock, but the inlay that formed his head has been lost. Some pieces of shell are later repairs, but much of the original design is intact.

Published References
  • Paul Jett. An Example of the Use of Brass in Chinese Lacquerware. vol. 43 New York and Honolulu, Hawaii, 1990. pp. 59-60.
  • Lee Yu-kuan. Oriental Lacquer Art., 1st ed. New York. p. 147, pl. 79.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. pp. 232-233.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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