MING DYNASTY,WANLI MARK AND PERIOD (1573-1619)
The zitan brush is carved in openwork and depicts a dragon and phoenix amidst clouds above steep mountain peaks and crashing waves. A six-character ‘Da Ming Wanli Nian Zhi’ 大明萬曆年製 mark is incised vertically within a rectangular register on the base of the brush. The brush end and the brush fitting are embellished with ivory. One of the five claws is effaced from each of the dragon claws.
The five-clawed dragon motif was the symbol reserved exclusively for the emperor’s use and it is not unusual for a claw to be removed from objects with dragon designs of the period, suggesting the brush may have been removed from the palace, either stolen or to be presented as a gift.
Brushes with imperial reign marks made in similar size and motifs were produced in the Xuande, Jiajing and Wanli periods in varying materials – such as carved cinnabar lacquer, painted lacquer, ivory, bamboo, zitan, and sandalwood, but it is rare to find an example with openwork decoration. A solid Wanli period sandalwood example in the Palace Museum with dragon and phoenix design is illustrated in Zhongguo Wenfang Sibao Quanji 中國文房四寶全集 Volume 3: Brushes 筆, Beijing, 2008, p. 20, Catalogue No. 22