Dimensions: 12.5cm diameter, 5.5cm high
– Bluett & Sons, London
– A private English collection
Oriental Arts UK, Asia Week New York 2003, p. 10, no. 7
The box and cover of cylindrical shape with sloping shoulders standing on a slightly convex base. The cover is gently lobed on the top, and cover all over with a translucent glaze on the interior. The box is glazed overall except the base and the mouth rim, exposing the white stoneware body.
The shape of the current box and cover suggests that it is copying a metal prototype. The inside rim of the box is probably reduced, as it would have curled inwards to form a secure container for oil. This would have prevented the contents from spilling in transport, as can be seen on a white-glazed box and cover in the Shijiazhuang Museum.
Boxes of this type would have been used to contain cosmetics, in particular fragrant oils for the lady’s dressing table and were essential for the elaborate coiffures of the Court Ladies of the late Tang and Five Dynasties.
Jia Sixie’s ‘Qimin Yaoshu’ (Essential Techniques for the Peasantry) written in the 6th century, records a recipe for facial moisturiser in the fifth ‘juan’:
“Use cow marrow (if short, mix with some cow fat; or if lacking, use cow fat alone); soak cloves and patchouli in warm wine (use same method as when soaking orchids), cook as if making water-plantain soup, also add mugworts for colour; pass through cottong, and store in ceramic or lacquer vessels.”
It is noted by Tang Shenwei in his ‘Zhenglei Bencao’ (Classified Materia Medica) that:
“Jasmine…its smell is spicy and not poisonous, steam it with oil to obtain essence, and use it as moisturiser for face or hair, can cure dryness and scent the skin.
Compare a similar box and cover from the Carl Kempe Collection, sold at Sotheby’s and a box from the Dexinshuwu Collection, offered at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 November 2017, lot 38