A Porcelain Box

Numerous items in the inventory are described as a "box" (doos), and they contain all kinds of goods, such as Italian soap, mirrors, glasses, medals, an Agnus Dei, glass pendants, crystal, and cloth. Only on a few occasions does the text describe the material from which the box is made: we find several wooden boxes, one made of straw, and most unusually, a single porcelain box. What makes this object a "box" rather than a bowl or dish (the most common imported porcelain goods from China) was probably the fact that it had a lid. Early modern examples of such Chinese-produced boxes can be found in the Rijksmuseum and the British Museum. They were used for a variety of purposes: to serve as incense burners, to store red seal paste or cosmetics, or just as decorative containers, perhaps to give as gifts. Some boxes like these were made at the official kiln sites that produced imperial porcelain, but others were produced in the "folk" kilns located nearer the coast, from where they were exported to consumers in Southeast Asia.

Anne Gerritsen, University of Warwick


Harrison-Hall, Jessica. Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press, 2001.

Round porcelain box with lid, decorated with white plum blossoms on an underglaze blue background, Chinese, 1575-1600, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Image: © Rijksmuseum.

Rectangular porcelain box with underglaze blue decorations, Jingdezhen, 1600-1620, London, British Museum. Image: © British Museum.