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5. Lychee Box
Late Ming dynasty, 16th–17th century
Carved red lacquer
h. 1½ in. diam. 3¼ in.
from Julia M. White, Masterpieces of Chinese Lacquer: From the Mike Healy Collection, China Institute, New York

Both the top and bottom of this box are decorated; lychee designs appear on the top, and pomegranate flowers on the bottom. The fruits are realistically depicted, their rough skins set against a background of intricate patterning. Some fruits have a raised and bumpy surface; two are depicted with a stylized diaper pattern. The leaves of the lychee plant spread diagonally across the surface and continue onto the sides of the box. There is no hint of a top rim, as is seen on earlier boxes of similar size. The pomegranate flower and leaves are also generously placed on a background pattern.

Similar boxes found in European and Chinese collections generally date to the late Ming period; among them is a very similar box in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.1 This type of small box was made to store valuables, perhaps a small mirror or other precious items. In both China and Japan, this type of box may have been used to hold incense and may have had a role in the Japanese tea ceremony. The surface sheen indicates that it was a treasured item and probably belonged to a wealthy individual.

1. See James C.Y. Watt and Barbara Brennan Ford, East Asian Lacquer: The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991), no. 40, p. 105.


© 2005 on loan to China Institute from the Honolulu Academy of Arts; photography by Suzo Uemoto.

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