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Red Lacquer Box Carved with Chrysanthemum Picking Scene

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Period: Qianlong Reign (1736–1795), Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Dimensions: Height: 7.5 cm; diameter: 16 cm

The wood box has an oblate body with a flat top and bottom, vertical sides, a round base, and tightly a fitting lid. The design on the lid is an old man standing under a pine tree, holding one hand behind his back and twisting his beard with the other. He looks as two children handle chrysanthemums in full bloom. Following behind the old man is a child holding a qin zither. A brocade design embellishes the sides of the box. The base and interior are coated with black lacquer. The inside of the lid is engraved with four gilded characters written in regular script (kaishu, one of China’s major calligraphic forms) and divided into two rows that read “Chrysanthemum Picking Treasure Box” (Caiju baohe). In the middle of the exterior of the base are six gilded characters inscribed in regular script and divided into three rows that read “Crafted during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor of the Great Qing Dynasty.”

The concept of picking chrysanthemums in Chinese art is based on the story of the great poet Tao Yuanming (ca. 365–427) of the Eastern Jin dynasty (317–420). It is said that Tao would not abide the corruption of the court in return for maintaining his official position and salary. Retiring to his hometown, he was honored as the progenitor of recluse poets. He developed new ways of thinking about the chrysanthemum. One of his renowned poems includes a description of picking the beloved flower beside a hedge with a view of southern mountains. Over time, picking chrysanthemums became a common subject in art and came to represent the character of the literatus, pure and aloof from mundane matters.

Chinese entry by Zhan Mengxia

Website version edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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