All Catalogue 

Decoration Case

Made to Order

         If there is no any specific selection you may leave it blank.

Cosmetic cabinet

Ming dynasty (1522-1566) Jiajing mark and period (1522-1566)

Red carved lacquer (tihong) on softwood frame

Height 12”, Width 12 1/2”, Depth 9 7/16”

Dated furniture is rear and this carved lacquer table-top cosmetic cabinet with a removable door provides a reliable mid-sixteenth century date for a popular form that was made in hardwood with hinged doors throughout Ming and Qing. Very few cosmetic cabinets with removable doors (chamenshi guanpixiang) have survived however, and Wang Shixiang believes that this was an early form that was later surpassed in popularity by cabinets with hinged doors. The separate sliding panel of the former type while less expedient to use, does provide a better format for pictorial decoration, a major feature of this small imperial chest.

Decorated in carved red lacquer (tihong), the rectangular cabinet has a rising lid of canted shape with gently curved chamfered edges. The removable front panel is slotted into the sides of the case and hooks into wire eyelets in each upper corner. The interior id fitted with six drawers and the box is set on a base with rounded sides. All visible exterior surfaces are of red lacquer carved in rather low relief against a black lacquer ground. The case interior and drawer linings are finished in a smooth brownish-black lacquer. The flat recessed base is lacquered black and incised with a gilt sic-character mark of Jiajing centrally placed on an horizontal line. The drawer pulls, escutcheon and hasp are of gilt copper. The backing plates are formed as flowers with incised decorations. In some areas, the lacquer has come off to reveal the wood framework.

The decoration of the top and all four sides of the chest is the same: a crane and a phoenix separated by a ribbon-like shou (longevity) character. Placed within an eight-sided ogival cartouche, the auspicious birds fly amongst clouds, above crystalline rocks and foaming waves. At each corner from top left, in counterclockwise direction, is depicted a branch with two peaches, a stem of lingzhi (fungus), a branch with two plums and a stem of peony. Each side of the cover is carved with branches of prunus, pine, and bamboo “the three friends of winter” behind a centrally-placed rock with a continuous lingzhi scroll around the entire foot. The three top drawers are all decorated with bunches of grapes, the two central drawers with lotus plants growing behind rocks and the single bottom drawer with two peach branches separated by a rock.

The cartouches on top and sides displaying the phoenix and crane amongst clouds above stylized mountains and waves is a form of Imperial imagery. A version of the standard “celestial landscape” depicting nine heavenly dragons in clouds and waves represent the two realms, heaven and earth, of imperial rule. In this context, the crane and phoenix are symbols of rank. The crane, and shou character, lingzi fungus and peaches are standard symbols of longevity. While the grapes signal abundance, the lotus represent purity and integrity, and its seed pod fecundity. The “three friends of winter” (Suihan, Sanyou) pine, bamboo, and prunus, are all plants resistant to winter cold and together they represent perseverance and virtue. The decoration of this cosmetic cabinet is thus a richly orchestrated scheme of symbolic plants and animals denoting status, aspiration for virtue and integrity, as well as wishes for prosperity and long life.