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Tea bowl stand, approx. 1200-1400

Tea bowl stand, approx. 1200-1400

Tea bowl stand, approx. 1200-1400. Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). China. Brown lacquer on wood and fabric. Gift of the Asian Art Museum Foundation, B76M3.

It is believed that the shape of this tea bowl stand was invented during the Tang dynasty (618-906), when a lady burned her fingers holding a tea cup, placed the cup on a plate, and insisted that a cup stand be fashioned out of lacquer in the same shape. In Song dynasty (960-1276) literature, the shape is described as tuo, meaning to lift or support.

Lacquer products date back to Neolithic times, and have been for the most part luxury items because of the laborious methods required to produce them. Lacquer is a resin extracted from a tree that grows in southern China. It is poisonous to the touch, like poison oak, and must be carefully applied in layers, usually over a base material like wood. In this case the lacquer has been applied on fabric over paper-thin layers of wood and meticulously built up into its present form. The stylized lotus flower form in the middle of the stand echoes many of the designs seen in Song dynasty ceramics. The monochrome color also echoes the Song dynasty preference for understated elegance.