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Inlays of mother-of-pearl bats and copper-wire clouds decorate the rosewood frame and stand of the screen. The center of the rectangular panel of the stand features five bats encircling a round stylized character for “longevity” (shou); this combination is known as “Five Bats Supporting Longevity” (Wufu pengshou)—interpreted as “Five Fortunes Undergirding Longevity”. An interlocking floral pattern is inlaid in mother-of-pearl on the vase-shaped supports on either side and the decoration panel on the lower part of the stand. Gourds made of stained glass and kingfisher feather inlays are used for embellishment on the black lacquer screen. The contrast of colors adds brilliance to the piece.
The table screen is designed with an implicit blessing. One of the characters in the word for bat (bianfu) is a homophone of “fortune” (fu), and the gourd carries the meaning of “ten thousand generations of sons and grandsons” and “eternal stability throughout the empire”. The screen would have been presented to Empress Dowager Cixi for her birthday in her later years.
English editing by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying