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Handled Ivory Openwork Container
Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911)
Height: 45.4 cm, width: 30.4, depth: 21.6 cm

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The body of this handled food container is divided into four levels, into which different kinds of food can be placed. However, judging from the frail and delicate exterior, it was more probably used as a decorative object as opposed to an actual functional utensil. The carving is exceptionally refined, with the main part carved delicately in openwork from an ivory panel, which was inlaid into the frame. The background is composed of a ground of straight lines like a piece of weaving. The detail between the lines is so delicate that "absolute perfection in workmanship" are the only words that can describe it. Also carved on the piece are representations of figure, bird, animal, garden scenery, and ship motifs, like a Far Eastern paradise as imagined by Europeans in the 18th-century. The cover knob, framework of the container body, and handle have been stained with interspersed light blue and red. The handle is engraved with traditional Chinese images of the Eight Immortals, which are stained accordingly based on their imagery. The cover knob is in the shape of a Western-style tall-footed vase decorated with red ribbon patterns.

Text: Shih Ching-fei
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