Place of Origin: Korea, Choson Dynasty
Date: 19th Century
Overall Length: 390mm
This rare and interesting cutlery set from Korea is housed in a black lacquered wooden case profusely decorated with silver wire inlay. The case is pill shaped and lacquered with a high polish. One side is decorated with large peony flowers, which are a popular subject matter in Korean lacquer. A similar decorative scheme is found on a Korean lacquer box in the Victoria and Albert Museum (no. FE.84:1, 2-1974) (1) which has mother-of-pearl and brass wire inlay. The lids and reverse of our case are both decorated with inscriptions in Chinese. The top lid is decorated with Chinese characters in a couplet comprising two six lines reading:
Du Shu Zhi Shang? Sheng Xian/ Wei Guan Xin? Jun Guo.
The reason I read books is to achieve piety and wisdom/ When I act as an official my heart is set to serve the Emperor and the country.
The bottom lid also has a two-line couplet, but this time comprising five lines, reading:
Liu Shui Gao Shan Zhe / Hua? Ming Yue Xin
My life goal is lofty like the running water and high mountain/The blossom is like a pure heart or bright moon.
The bottom left shows a framed seal which reads:
Copying the Ancient
The reverse of the case has five large characters which read:
Fu Gui Chang Yi Hou Wang (in seal script)
High status prospering suitable/benefit marquis king
From the beautiful and revealing inscriptions it appears that this was made for a pious and high-ranking individual who served as a royal official.
The set contains an eating knife with wooden handle and bone mounts, a pair of bone-handled flat implements believed to be nail files, a pair of steel tweezers with a spiked tip, a pair of bone chopsticks, a nephrite jade handled gilt-copper fork with a bat symbol, and an ivory pickle skewer. A fork with a nephrite jade handle and a bat and coin design in gold is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and illustrated in the book Splendors of China’s Forbidden City (2), being described as part of a set of eating utensils for imperial ladies at banquets. Our set must have served a similar purpose for a high-status family in a Korean setting.
(2) Ho/Bronson, Splendors of China’s Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, p.207, no.260.