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Filigree Cloisonné Box with Lotus Motif
Ching-t'ai Reign (1450-1456), Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Height: 6.3 cm, diameter: 12.4, cm, weight: 634.6 g

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This lotus cloisonné box is composed of filigree work on a copper body. The flat lid is decorated with lotus blossoms and pods. The sides of both the box and lid are curved after the shape of lotus petals. The edges of the petals stand out and the tips curl outwards, and there is great variation in the representations and in the lines of every petal, stem, and blossom. The box feels very heavy in the hand and exhibits intricate craftsmanship, with perfectly rendered filigree work on which the traces of gilt plating are still clearly discernible. The vibrant enamels used to fill the compartments between the filigree include yellows, indigo blues, light blues, vibrant reds, and fluorescent whites. The inside and base are gilt, and the bottom of the inside of the box has a row of Chinese characters in standard script reading, “Made during the Ching-t’ai Reign of the Great Ming.” During the Mongol Yüan dynasty (1279-1368), filigree cloisonné was called “banquet ware”, or “ware from the land of the spirits”, and was used on vessels such as censers, vases, boxes, cups and shallow “chan” drinking vessels. According to the early Ming dynasty aficionado Ts’ao Chao, cloisonné would not suit the man of letters, and was more suited to the woman’s chambers. Regardless of Ts’ao Chao’s ridicule, cloisonné was to become extremely popular in the Ming, when it became known as “Ching-t’ai Blue” ware. The reason for this was most likely the fact that the cloisonné made in the imperial workshops during the Ching-t’ai reign enjoyed the most fame. In the late Ming, collectors held these Ching-t’ai pieces in the highest regard, believing them to represent the apex of Ming art, together with Ch’eng-hua ceramics, Hsüan-te bronzes, and Yung-lo lacquer ware. It is very difficult to distinguish which of the extant Ching-t’ai pieces are genuine, but this censer box is a rare example of a piece that conforms to the style of the period.

Text: Ts'ai Mei-fen
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