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Mother-of-Pearl Trousse

Place of Origin: China

Date: 19th Century

Overall Length: 330mm (13 Inches)

Reference: 371

Status: Sold

Full Description:

This unusual Chinese eating set comprises a knife formed with a slender blade, just in front of which rest a pair of bone chopsticks. A silver throat-piece and chape are fitted to the scabbard and chased throughout with a pattern of leafy shoots and beads, the throat-piece itself fitted with a bracket in the shape of a bird’s head which is repeated in chased form at the centre of the chape. A woven yellow cord is threaded through a belt-loop for suspension at the wearer’s waist.

The feature which most arrests the viewer, however, is the decorative schema applied over both the knife-handle and the central section of the scabbard: a mosaic pattern of mother-of-pearl segments which form panels enclosing applied quatrefoils in gold. This elegant design feels almost contemporary and is testament both to the maker’s creativity and to the decorative diversity more broadly found in such eating sets. For sets of similar artistic quality, we can turn to examples published by Runjeet Singh in Arts of the Oriental Warrior – Paris 2019 (see Cat. Nos. 6, 7, and 9).[1]

Such sets were so important to Manchu court-life that Emperor Qianlong erected a tablet in front of the Jian Ting (the Archery Pavilion in the Forbidden palace), emphasising that real Manchus should always carry knives to cut their own pork at meals rather than having it cut up for them in the Chinese way.[2]


[2] Ho and Bronson, Splendors of China’s Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, 2004, p. 31, fig. 18. For further reading see Tie, Qindi Dongxun (The Eastern Tours of the Qing Emperors), 1991, as well as Rawski and Rawson, China: The Three Emperors, 2005, p. 81, fig. 39.


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