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Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Rare 13th Century Chinese Carved Lacquer Box
Round box with decoration of two birds and peonies, China, late Southern Song to early Yuan dynasty, late 13th century. Carved lacquer;d: 40 cm x h: 20 cm.
CLEVELAND, OH.- A late 13th-century Chinese carved lacquer box, one of the most significant and exquisite examples of its type, has been approved by the Collections Committee of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees. The Chinese lacquer box further enhances the museum’s renowned Asian art collection, as the museum moves toward the completion of its transformational building expansion and Asian collection reinstallation which will be completed in 2013. Adding such a rare object to the collection will allow scholars to develop new interpretations of the artistic achievements of Chinese culture.

The Round Box with Decoration of Two Birds and Peonies is of great art-historical significance since it offers new insights into the development of early Chinese carved lacquer. This lacquer box is unique in combining both naturalistic and abstract approaches to the decoration of carved lacquer, incorporating a geometric pattern of spiral scrolls with a decoration of two birds in flight against a floral ground as its primary design. The design combination adds to its rarity, since these two decorative schemes are usually applied independently.

Stylistically, this box represents the transition of Chinese carved lacquer from the late Southern Song to the early Yuan period. The box incorporates the Southern Song period-style in the carving of the spiral scrolls—notably, the deep cutting with a V-shaped profile through the alternate layers of lacquer in black, red and brownish yellow—and also demonstrates further advancement in the treatment of the flower-and-bird design, anticipating the later development of a full Yuan style in carved lacquer. Each surface area is cut deeply in a manner that is consistent with the Southern Song carving style, yet there are new stylistic tendencies towards a dense composition and overlapping of three-dimensional forms—characteristics that were continuously adopted in the typical Yuan and Ming carved lacquer developed later.

Lacquer ware was always a valuable product in Chinese material culture and was intended for wealthy connoisseurs. Carved objects were often used as precious gifts or luxury goods in diplomatic, religious and economics exchanges with other countries, such as Japan where this box was discovered. Adding such a rare object to the collection will allow scholars to develop new interpretations of the artistic achievements of Chinese culture.

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