Grandeur, abundance, panache

Wrappings and layers – packaging collections and gifts

Tribute offerings and deluxe gifts were a staple of the Qing court, deriving from a longer tradition of presentation and ceremony. Literati themselves used this sort of packaging to give prominence and enhance the viewing of objects they collected or exchanged.

Where materials have no fixed shape - such as tea leaves, loose foodstuffs and liquids - packaging offered great scope for creativity. Packaging performed a strong expressive function through both complex craftsmanship, and the drama created by stages of opening.

Here a box for tribute teas begins with a simple, pure form, suffused in Imperial yellow. Aside from an inscription, nothing suggests its contents. When opened, two unlabeled pewter vessels hold the leaves, the cap of each sealed with a single piece of fine cloth, split to embrace the swelling of the vessel.

 Tea caddies
Qing Period (1644-1911)
National Palace Museum, Beijing

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