Possibly Gansu province, Western China
Ming dynasty, dated AD 1489
A famous scene on the front and a poem on the back
Although it was known earlier, carved lacquer with a pictorial scene was perfected in the Song or Ming dynasty (960-1644). These beautifully executed pieces were often made to imperial order and some were exported to Japan as diplomatic gifts. This dish is one of the earliest known examples of polychrome carved lacquer with a pictorial scene. Red, green, yellow and black lacquer are used.
The setting is a famous fourth-century drinking and poetry party at the Lanting (Orchid Pavilion) in the southern province of Zhejiang. That event has been the subject of countless Chinese paintings and poems. In this depiction, the sky is full of clouds and cranes, birds symbolic of immortality. The party arriving in the foreground is accompanied by deer, also associated with immortality, and the Islands of the Immortals rise out of the waves around the border of the dish. The bracketing and tiling of the buildings are executed with great intricacy, and the carver has signed his name and the date around the door of the pavilion.
A verse by the Tang dynasty poet, Wang Bo (650-675), is carved on the back of the dish.
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)