RED LACQUERED TROUSSE
Place of Origin: CHINA
Date: Qing Dynasty (18th - 19th Century)
This well-preserved Chinese eating set comprises a knife and a pair of chopsticks placed within a bright red lacquered scabbard.
The knife is mounted with a white jade handle and bone collar, the slender single-edged blade exhibiting a folded and layered construction on its surface as well as further rings of metal at the forte which are likely designed to make the blade fit more readily into its scabbard. Included in the set are a pair of bone chopsticks which are inserted just in front of the knife.
The scabbard’s collar and chape comprise inlays of cloisonné painted to depict stylised scrolls of green foliage and red flowers as well as a central blue lotus, all highlighted in gold on a turquoise ground, and both inlays enclosed by thin bands of gilt copper alloy. The central section of the wooden scabbard has been decorated with “the greatest triumph of Ch’ing [Qing] lacquer, [carved] lacquer in cinnabar red.” Indian lotuses – popular in Chinese decoration for the good fortune they symbolically brought to the owner of the work – and rectangular spiral patterns are intricately carved in high relief and fine detail throughout, the central carving of spirals composed of a harmoniously “mirrored” or symmetrical construction.
Works in cloisonné and lacquer appealed greatly to both the Chinese royal household and the wealthy classes of this period, and bright colours were often employed by craftsmen to create pleasing contrasts against the darker hues of woods and metals, as such a sense of harmony well reflected the Qing emperors’ revived interest in the universal balance that was espoused by Confucianism.
Sotheby’s Auction of Fine Asian, Australian & European Arts & Design, Australia 24th October 2017, Lot 45: https://auctions.sothebysaustralia.com.au/lots/view/1-I2M4X/a-red-lacquer-eating-set.
A gallery project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, titled Arms and Armor: Imperial Patrons of the Military Arts in the Qing Dynasty and including saddles, knives, and other militaria, showcases the masterful lacquerwork that applied to some Qing dynasty pieces.
 Maxwell K. Hearn, Splendors of Imperial China: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei (published jointly by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei), New York & Taipei, 1996, p. 123.
 Tian Jiaqing, Classic Chinese Furniture of the Qing Dynasty (Joint Publishing (Hong Kong) Company Ltd, Hong Kong & London), 1996, p. 38.