Tray

The landscape scene on the try features a celsetial orb pictured at the center of parting clouds that are positioned in the top middle of the design. Below, a tall gnarled tree of indeterminable species (with six-pointed foliage) twists and turns, spreading across the picture plane. At the base of the tree several large Taihu rocks appear (these bear the most damage with later pieces of brightly-colored shell repair).

Slender bamboo sprays project from behind the rocks and a waterfall spills over the rocks, flowing into the stream bed in several rounded arcs suggestive of a fast current. A pair of mandarin ducks have been incised into the shell inlay used to depict the rocks. A large animal (head now gone) also appears in front of the tree; this recumbent beast has been described as a deer, but this can only be conjecture. The animal does not have hooves or a typical deer tail. The landscape is completed with a row of sketchily conceived pine trees that appear on the distant shore.

The borders of the tray are filled with a typical “brocade pattern” at the corners and the sides bear ogival cartouches that contain peony scrolls. The underside of the tray has a schematic floral design that consists of sketchy flowers with a “star burst” arrangement of eight petals. This design does not seem to appear before the Ming dynasty.

Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, possibly 16th century
Medium
Black lacquer on wood core with mother-of-pearl inlay and leaded brass wire
Dimensions
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)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Gift of The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
S1997.34
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Container, Lacquer
Type

Tray

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

?-to 1972
Sammy Yu Kuan Lee, President of Oriental House, Ltd., Tokyo, and Sammy Y. Lee & Wangs Company, Ltd., Hong Kong [1]

1972-1987
Dr. Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987), New York, NY, purchased from Sammy Yu Kuan Lee, President of Oriental House, Ltd., Tokyo, and Sammy Y. Lee & Wangs Company, Ltd., Hong Kong [2]

Unidentified owner, method of transfer unknown [3]

1994-1996
Estate of Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, New York, NY [4]

1996-1997
Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, New York, NY, transferred from the Estate of Dr. Arthur M. Sackler [5]

From 1997
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation

Notes:

[1] See paper file from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, copy in object file.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The object was on loan to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery between 1987 and 1997.

[4] See note 1. See curatorial remark 1.

[5] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Sammy Yu Kuan Lee
Sammy Y. Lee & Wangs Company, Ltd.
The Arthur M. Sackler Collections Trust
Oriental House LTD
Dr. Arthur M. Sackler 1913-1987
Arthur M. Sackler Foundation founded 1965

Description

The landscape scene on the try features a celsetial orb pictured at the center of parting clouds that are positioned in the top middle of the design. Below, a tall gnarled tree of indeterminable species (with six-pointed foliage) twists and turns, spreading across the picture plane. At the base of the tree several large Taihu rocks appear (these bear the most damage with later pieces of brightly-colored shell repair).

Slender bamboo sprays project from behind the rocks and a waterfall spills over the rocks, flowing into the stream bed in several rounded arcs suggestive of a fast current. A pair of mandarin ducks have been incised into the shell inlay used to depict the rocks. A large animal (head now gone) also appears in front of the tree; this recumbent beast has been described as a deer, but this can only be conjecture. The animal does not have hooves or a typical deer tail. The landscape is completed with a row of sketchily conceived pine trees that appear on the distant shore.

The borders of the tray are filled with a typical "brocade pattern" at the corners and the sides bear ogival cartouches that contain peony scrolls. The underside of the tray has a schematic floral design that consists of sketchy flowers with a "star burst" arrangement of eight petals. This design does not seem to appear before the Ming dynasty.

Label

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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