Carved red lacquer
Diam. 21 7/8 in. (55.6 cm)
Promised Gift of Florence and Herbert Irving (L.1996.47.14)
This large dish belongs to the class of carved lacquer known as renwu gushi (narrative scenes with human figures), which, like the flower-and-bird type, had its beginning in the late Song period (9601279). The subject depicted on this platter, children at play in a garden, follows a Song tradition. The ladies' dresses are in the style of the period, making it clear that the design derives from a Song original. This is also indicated by the figure in the lower right of a child dressed up as a gentleman at leisure, who is being helped to his feet by two other boys and followed by another holding a parasol. He sports a type of tall hat made fashionable in the Song period by Su Shi (10361101), the most admired poet-official of his generation and a figure beloved by Chinese poets and writers for succeeding centuries. The carving of the platter, however, is very much in the high Yuan (12791368) style, which began to mature only in the first half of the fourteenth century. It shows the Yuan propensity for creating three-dimensional images in the relief (with particular success in the area of the pavilion and lotus pond). Some of the objects depicted, such as the set of incense-burning utensils on the table at the lower left, also indicate a Yuan date. The size of the dish has some bearing on its dating as well; there are no known lacquer or ceramic dishes of this size from the Song period, but there are a great number of large porcelain dishes dating from the fourteenth century. The pattern of cracks on the back of the platter reveals that its wooden core is constructed, as are those of all other known fourteenth-century dishes, by joining a smaller piece to the main body of the substrate with the grains of the two pieces perpendicular. This has been confirmed by radiography. The theme of children at play is expressive of the wish for offspring and the joy of having them, an idea reinforced by the presence of a pomegranate tree behind the large garden rock where children are playing hide-and-seek. The pomegranate fruit with its many seeds is frequently used as a symbol of progeny.