Go Sighting #16: Ming Dynasty Carved Cinnabar Lacquerware Peony Go Bowls








Ming Dynasty Carved Cinnabar Lacquerware Peony Go Bowls
I bought this set of carved cinnabar lacquerware go bowls from Japan and the seller listed these as a pair of old cinnabar lacquerware go bowls with floral decorations. What really caught my eyes were the carved characters on the bottom which read 成化年製. This did not correspond with any of the Japanese era periods so I researched the list of Chinese Emperors and found that it corresponded to the Chenghua Emperor (1464-1487) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This means that if the bowls are genuine, then they are over 500 years old.

So the question becomes how likely are they to be authentic. These were some of the thoughts on my mind:

1. The seller advertises as an antique dealer of lacquerware and other fine antiques. The many other items on offer by this seller seem to be fine Japanese antiques.

2. Cinnabar lacquerware is a well known type of artwork during the Ming Dynasty and peony is one of the themes from that period. Compare with the “Round box with peony décor” from this online exhibition. By the way, in case you are wondering about the symbolism, the peony alludes to spring and denotes wealth.

3. Japan is known to have traded with China since at least the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). So it is quite likely that the bowls could have come to Japan during the Ming Dynasty. Japan is also known to preserve their antiques quite well.

4. The material looks like cinnabar and seems to have darkened from exposure to light over time. Cinnabar is still used by some lacquer craftsmen but there are environmental concerns and most modern replicas would use other materials.

5. The characters on the bottom were patiently carved to show off the sharp vigorous strokes of Chinese calligraphy. These sharp strokes can only be carved as such while the lacquer is not completely dried. If you try to carve lacquer which is completely dried, it will chip.

6. The bowls have fairly intricate deep relief carvings and the lines are carved with sharp strokes. They looks similar to old Chinese carved cinnabar lacquerware you might find in museums.

So it seems to me that it is fairly safe to consider them as genuine antiques. I have a much higher degree of faith in this set than in my Qing Style ones.

So assuming this is the real deal, 500 year old go bowls would certainly be the oldest go related items in my collection. Contrast the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) with the Edo period (1603 to 1868) in Japan when go flourished, and you realize that these bowls are very likely to be considerably older than most Japanese go related antiques.

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Just wanted to show a comparison with a pair of contemporary Chinese carved lacquerware go bowls which I saw offered at a Japanese auction site. The color is very bright orangy red on the upper layers and black in lower layers. I find the colors a bit too monochrome for my taste. The carving also seems a little rough edged. The dragon looks lethargic and it’s scales looks like plain crisscross cuts. If it were a fine Chinese antique specimen I’d perhaps expect a fierce looking dragon that looks ready to jump out at you. Such a lively dragon would also have layering of individual scales with variations in sizes which emphasize the sleek body as it coils amongst the clouds. Anyway, I don’t really want to discuss this much further as it is not an item I’m interested in other than for the purpose of comparing with old carved cinnabar lacquerware bowls.

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I recently came upon a picture of a pair of old carved cinnabar lacquerware with dragon carvings. Comparing these with the modern version, I’m sure you can figure out which one I would prefer if I had to choose a set of carved dragon go bowls. Of course, I still like my peony ones more.

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4 Responses to Go Sighting #16: Ming Dynasty Carved Cinnabar Lacquerware Peony Go Bowls

  1. Yosoyedu says:

    Ohh, these bowls are wonderfull!!!!!!!!

    It´s difficoult to see that material in internet.

  2. Carol Horton says:

    I was born in Japan in 1962, my dad was CIA and was sent to Japan in the mid-50’s. He went all through Japan and China and collected all kinds of oriental art that was considered extremely valuable at the time. (Ivory carvings, woodblock prints, carved wood, lacquer boxes, bronze, silver, Imari bowls and plates etc) Back in the 50’s he could find all kinds of wonderful items at a good price.

    My mother recently passed away and I am now owner of this amazing cinnabar box. I have a newspaper article talking about a set of 3 large round cinnabar boxes that belongs to a museum and how one of the set is missing. If you look at the picture in the article it matches the cinnabar box that I have to a tee. My parents found this article in the early 70’s when I was still a kid but they kept it in the cinnabar box.

    So, I don’t want to keep it if it’s worth something. I’d rather sell it and split that with my siblings. I have no idea how to do that. Obviously I’m researching it, that’s how I found you. Would you have any advice for me??

    • tchan001 says:

      If it is really amazing and I emphasize REALLY AMAZING you should try to get an expert at either Christie’s or Sothebys to look at the box. May I suggest that you look at their E-catalogues for the most recent sales and viewings in Hong Kong dated 08 Oct 2010 (Sothebys “Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art [HK0331]“) and 01 Dec 2010 (Christies “Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art“) where they have some examples of the very finest cinnabar boxes available. You should probably compare your boxes to see if they are similar to that quality before approaching these companies, but you could also try to send a nice photo of the item to them to see if it is something they would be interested in helping you auction. My cinnabar lacquerware peony go bowls in my humble opinion are probably not up to the standards demanded by the pickiest collectors.

      Perhaps there are some Asian art dealers in your locality or in nearby big cities who may be able to help you as well. Alternatively, you could just consider selling it on perhap Ebay.

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