Incense box with “fragrant grass” design
early Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
late 13th century
Carved black, red, and yellow lacquer
H. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm); Diam. 3 7/8 in. (9.8 cm)
Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 2007
Not on view
The scrolling design that fills the surface of this box is often called the “fragrant grass” motif in Chinese writings on lacquer. It is closely linked to another pattern featuring abstract scrolls that is popularly known as the “pommel scroll.” Both designs, ubiquitous in carved lacquer, can be traced to abstract patterns in early Chinese lacquers and bronze vessels. The reemergence of this motif during the Song period (960–1279) reflects the fascination with antiquarian imagery that marked this period of Chinese history and the rediscovery of that time of earlier artistic traditions.