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Linen chest with scholar and flower motifs

Early 20th century

Linen chest with scholar and flower motifsOrigin: Shandong province

  • elm wood
  • 1015mm wide x 620mm deep x 720mm high


The chest was the first form of storage with its origins as small boxes going back over 2000 years. This piece is one of the large linen chests. It has its own built-in base to keep the bottom of the chest off the floor and so protect the contents.

The brass clasp is a motif of a sceptre called a "ruyi". The ruyi was originally used by the emperor but was also known to have been used by other officials and persons and has subsequently been absorbed in to Chinese iconography. The term literally means "as you wish" and implies perfect satisfaction, that all one's wishes come true including, for example wealth and high honour as well as a long life.

The lacquer on the chest is tree sap based mixed with other natural oxides to produce a variety of colours. The painting on the front of the chest is reminiscent of a scholar's studio. The display stand has a pot in which there is a fly whisk, fan and a ruyi. In essence, these items along with the pair of lion-like figures represent a wish for career advancement. There is a cup with a double happiness character placed on a book. This character represents a wish for a newly married couple to have a happy marriage. The surrounding butterflies and chrysanthemums are a wish for a long life.

One side of the chest has peonies, a symbol of prosperity. The other side has painting of plum blossom representing the Five Blessings of happiness, good health, long life, love of virtue and a natural death.

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