This is a Chinese wood hand carved writing box, to hold the tools for calligraphy and letter writing. The date is the last part of the 18th century to the early 19th century, circa 1780 to 1810.
The last bit of provenance of this box was that it was sold to the estate by a high end antique shop in Portland around 1980. The antique dealer wrote a 2-page description of the box, which will be included, and I will try my best to rewrite here the description.
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The Chinese have long been known for the appreciation and collection of art objects. This connoisseurship reached its zenith during the C’hing Dynasty (1644 – 1911.) By the 17th century, a new class had evolved in China, the literati, the literate class. They were educated and wealthy officials. These elites, the collectors – connoisseurs, were crucial in the formation of taste and styles. They admired calligraphy (writing of characters), paintings, and porcelain. Calligraphy was one of the “four scholarly pursuits” with each official writing many hours each day.
During this period, the ingenuity and craft of the artisans were fully realized. From the 17th century, these artisans were concentrated in the district of Guangdong, at the port of Canton on the Pearl River. At the mouth of the Pearl River is Hong Kong. They became famous throughout the globe for their carvings on wood, ivory and silver. This box was carved at Canton in the late 18th century and beginning of the 19th (c 1780 – 1810).
The top panel of the writing box is carved with a peacock in the center. The peacock is a symbol of elegance, dignity and beauty. It denotes the third civil rank. The third rank (of nine) is a very high rank in China, and represented a member of the Imperial extended family. This box was owned by a very important personage.
Carved around the peacock are two stylized dragons, curling around the left and right. The style of the dragons have eliminated the arms and feet of the traditionally known dragon. This was the Eastern dragon, the dragon of the coast. The official would have lived and ruled on the east coast of China.
The background and sided are carved with a lotus meander symbolizing 10,000 years of rule and stability. The fret that circles the top is conventionally known as a Greek fret but originated in China, and is known as a running dragon fret.
The box is 20” by 16” and 5” deep.
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The box is old. There is a crack running the length of the bottom underside panel. The bottom edges show a lot of wear, with some wood missing in the way of real old wood. The corners show some glue residue where repairs were made over the decades and I assume other repairs were made too. Felt was added to the wood feet to protect the bottoms a long time ago. The key for the box is long missing. Please look at the photos carefully. If you are seriously interested in the purchase of the box and would like me to take more close-up photos to be emailed to you, I will be happy to do so.