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Black Lacquer Box with Gold-Traced Bats and Longevity Characters

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Period: Mid-Qing period, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: black lacquer on wood

The circular box with a wooden core is in the form of an openwork stylized longevity character (shou) with a tongue at the outer rims for fitting the lid. It is lacquered black and decorated with gold-traced motifs throughout. The upper surface of the lid is painted with bats alternating with longevity roundels. The vertical sides of the box and lid are decorated with sprays of chrysanthemum, bamboo, peach blossom, orchid, and lingzhi fungus. The interior of the box is divided into a number of narrow compartments padded with brocade fabric. Inside the box are four painting scrolls that fit exactly into the four central compartments. The paintings mounted onto these hanging scrolls were produced by the court painter Guanhuai and respectively entitled Heavenly Fragrance in the Moon Palace (Yuedian tianxiang), Eternal Spring of Myriad Years (Wannian Changchun), Territorial Unity for Myriad Years (Wannian yitong) and Auspicious Grass in the Palace of Yao the Emperor (Yaojie mingjia). Depicting respectively the osmanthus, chrysanthemum, sacred lily, and an auspicious fabulous plant called mingjia, these images invoke blessings, convey birthday wishes, and eulogise the virtues of the emperor. Technically this box does not seem to have been produced by the imperial workshops. Its shape and decorative motifs as well as the content of the paintings it contains suggest that it was a gift presented to the emperor by a minister.

Guan Huai (courtesy name Jinqing, style names Xueyan and Qingcheng Shanren) was a native of Renhe (present-day Hangzhou). In 1780 (the forty-fifth year of the Qianlong reign), he attained the degree of metropolitan graduate (jinshi) with list-leader honours (chuanlu, for top scores of the second or third class of the aforementioned degree), and was appointed vice-minister of the Ministry of Rites. He excelled in painting landscapes and flowers and birds. Quite a number of his works are kept in the former Qing-palace collection in the Palace Museum.


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