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A RARE CHINESE IMPERIAL WUCAI 'BOYS' BOX AND COVER SIX CHARACTER WANLI MARK AND OF THE PERIOD 1573-1620 The barrel-shaped body painted with sixteen boys at play in a garden amidst rockwork, plantain, pine and willow trees, with stylised ruyi-head shaped clouds in the sky above them, all beneath a band of swirls encircling the rim, the cover similarly decorated with four further boys in a fenced garden, with a band of key fret to the edge, 18cm high. (2) Provenance: formerly the collection of Dolores Alzaga, Buenos Aires. The Alzaga Family were well-known for numerous collections, including cloisonné and Fabergé. Ming dynasty porcelain covered boxes of this form are exceedingly rare and it is still unclear what their exact purpose was. It has been suggested that these boxes might have been used in pairs as containers for weiqi, also known as go, playing pieces. However, comparable jars also functioned as cricket cages. Porcelain cricket cages of this form, but with recessed covers, were first made for the Xuande Emperor (r.1426-35) and the popularity of the ancient sport of cricket fighting grew significantly during the Ming dynasty. The depth of this particular box would perhaps suggest that is more likely to have functioned as a cricket cage: it would have been somewhat impractical to pick out weiqi stones from such a tall container. It is also interesting to note that the barrel-shaped form later became popular in Japan, being utilised on mizusashi, or water vessels used in tea ceremonies. Cf. R Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol.4 (I), pp.196-197, no.1704 for a similar smaller Wanli mark and period box and cover painted with dancers; see also the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession no.1991.253.55 for a comparable jar without its cover painted with dragons; see also Sotheby's Hong Kong, 5th October 2016, lot 110 for another related item decorated with mythical beasts; see also R E Scott, Elegant Form and Harmonious

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