The square top has a beaded edge above a rectangular midsection pierced with ruyi and set into a foliate apron overhanging the cabriole legs terminating in leaf curls, all set on a square base raised on an inset openwork section pierced with quatrefoils above a square stretcher with bracket decoration. The black lacquer is elaborately inlaid with small fragments of mother-of-pearl overall aside from the base where larger mother-of-pearl pieces were used, all reflecting shimmering tones of purple, blue, pink and green. The scene on the top of the stand is comprised of eight scholarly gentlemen attended by five servants in a garden setting, all wearing different intricately patterned robes. Five of the scholars are gathered around a table laden with teacups, writing utensils and paper. Two look on while two are seated in yoke-backed chairs and another on a stool while one attendant holds a fan nearby and other servants stand ready with a cup and serving tray. Two of the gentlemen stand beneath a fruiting tree, one with his arm raised to pluck one of the large fruits, the attendant ready to receive the bounty. The garden is partially enclosed by a decorative balustrade and replete with luxuriant foliage and blossoming trees. The square base is inlaid with a charming bird and flower subject almost like an album leaf painting depicting a bird hovering over a gracefully curving branch of flowers with a pair of butterflies nearby. The pierced midsection, the legs, and the sides of the base are all inlaid with feathery scrolling vines set with florets while the apron is decorated with larger flowers on scrolling stems issuing leaves.
The Ryukyuan chain of islands, extending from Kyushu to Taiwan and also known as Okinawa since annexation by the Japanese in 1872, supported a rich tradition of lacquer making since the end of the 14th century when ties were established with the new Ming dynasty in China. Thenceforward the Chinese craftsmen and their wares served as teachers and models with the Japanese market providing inspiration, and the Ryukyuan lacquer makers also developed techniques of their own for achieving desired effects. Nevertheless, the similarity between Ryukyuan and Chinese lacquer ware is sometimes great enough to make attribution difficult. A lacquer stand attributed to the 15th-16th century during the Ming dynasty (fig. 1) would have served as a model for stands claimed by specialists of Ryukyuan wares to have been produced in the Ryukyu Islands during the 17th-18th century (figs. 2-3). The present stand appears most closely allied with these later wares in certain specific motifs— for example, the character of the feathery scrolls and the textile patterns of the scholars’ robes—as well as the character, color, and condition of the mother-of-pearl inlay.
The subject of the major design is also telling. Here are eight scholars but rather than the group so-well beloved and oft represented in China, the group known as the “Eight Immortals of the Winecup,” the gentlemen here are gathered in a garden where a massive peach tree is the center of some serious attention and which suggests they might in fact be in the garden of Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West. In Chinese lore and pictorial art, it is Xiwangmu and her female entourage who are the proper and rightful inhabitants of such a garden. The divergence from the usual theme suggests a non-Chinese, Ryukyuan provenance for the present stand, which was designed to display an incense burner, a vase of flowers, or even a scholar’s rock.
Top view of cat. 64
Fig. 1: Mother-of-pearl inlaid black lacquer stand, Chinese, 15th-16th century A.D., after Exhibition of Mother-of-Pearl Inlay in Chinese Lacquer Art, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1979, no. 75.
Fig. 2: Mother-of-pearl inlaid black lacquer stand, Ryukyuan, 17th-18th century A.D., after Arakawa Hirokazu and Tokogawa Yoshinobu, Ryukyu Shikkogei, Tokyo, 1977, no.132.
Fig. 3: Mother-of-pearl inlaid black lacquer stand, Ryukyuan, 17th-18th century A.D., after Arakawa Hirokazu and Tokogawa Yoshinobu, Ryukyu Shikkogei, Tokyo, 1977, no. 130.