University Museums

Title: Marriage or Ceremonial Box
Name: Marriage or Ceremonial Box
Date: 1736-1796
Medium: Lacquer on wood
Country/Culture: Chinese
Dimensions: 8 x 15 in. (20.3 x 38.1 cm) 5 x 13 1/2 in. (12.7 x 34.3 cm)
Marks: In a triangular shaped area incised in the bottom of the chest is calligraphy. Imperial manfucaturer of Qianlong emperor of the great Qing dynasty.
Classification: Decorative Arts, Natural Substances
Credit Line: Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Ann and Henry Brunnier Collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Object Number: 5.2.5abc
More Information
True lacquer is a viscous substance, emitted from a tree that becomes extremely hard upon drying. When soft it can be tinted with pigments such as cinnabar, creating a scarlet color. Originally used as a protective coating for leather, wood or metal, lacquer was later applied as a decorative treatment during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). An object coated with multiple layers of lacquer was highly prized throughout the seventeenth century but fell into disuse near the end of the eighteenth century.

The images on these lacquer trays are based on the popular Chinese novel, "Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber)," written in the mid-eighteenth century during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Since its writing, the novel has been immensely popular internationally. It tells the story of a wealthy family and the complicated human relations between its members and their many servants, as well as acquaintances. The trays show one of the many family gatherings described in the novel.

The box, most likely a dowry box, depicts a tale of the Chinese Mother Queen of Heaven who, on her birthday, receives gifts encased in similar boxes from eight immortals. Three luck gods- representing longevity, prosperity and happiness-are seated at the Queens feet. The entire box is decorated with bands of imperial dragons interspersed with Buddhist treasures, referencing a long-lasting spring, good luck and long life.