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Lacquer Tray with Phoenixes
China, Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279)
Red, yellow, and black lacquer on wood
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.;
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler (S1987.0396)
cat. 203
[click on top image for full object view]

Lacquer Tray Lacquer Tray
Lacquer Tray detail


In China, objects made from lacquer—a seemingly humble material produced from tree sap—were, in fact, highly prized luxury goods. Carved lacquers such as this finely detailed tray, for example, could require the application of hundreds of layers of lacquer, and take over a year to complete.

  Lacquer Tray detail

The tray's motif of paired phoenixes, arranged in a circular configuration, became a common theme under the Chinese Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) and in Ilkhanid Iran in a variety of media, including ceramics.
  Lacquer Tray detail


The opposed phoenixes in flight are set among flowers representing each of the four seasons:

Winter plum blossoms
Spring peonies
Summer lotuses
Autumn chrysanthemums

  Lacquer Tray detail
   
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