Octagonal Tray with Eighteen Scholars of the Tang
Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Black lacquer with mother-of-pearl inlay
H. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm); Diam. 11 3/8 in. (28.9 cm); Diam. of foot 9 5/8 in. (24.4 cm)
Promised Gift of Florence and Herbert Irving
In the foreground three scholar-gentlemen, identified as such by their clothing, travel on horseback toward a gate attended by two figures holding large fans. These gentlemen are most likely planning to join the five who are examining a painting displayed by two young attendants. Additional scholars are seated in the pavilion. The men may represent the Eighteen Scholars of the Tang dynasty (618–906), a group that advised the Emperor Taizong (r. 627–649). Historical records indicate that the Eighteen Scholars were the subject of a now-lost painting by Yan Liben (ca. 600–673) that may have led to the prominence of this motif within the visual arts of China.