Antique Black Painted Opera Trunk
Shanxi, circa 1890
Once brightly decorated, the colours on the front of this wonderful blanket chest have softened over time to a beautiful autumnal palette of pinks, oranges, blues and greens. However the detailed paintings are still largely intact, showing a scene from a classic Chinese opera along with various fruits and flowers. Four figures are shown centrally, each sumptuously clothed in traditional dress, with the character to the far right seated in front of a table set out for serving tea.
The paintings framing the main scene include butterflies - a symbol for longlife and happiness in a marriage - as well as pomegranates to represent fertility. The story depicted is therefore likely to have been one of romance and marriage.
This type of trunk, always brightly painted with symbolic flowers or scenes from Chinese legends and literature, were commonly used by Chinese opera groups for transporting their costumes and stage props. The paintings would often depict scenes from the operas that they would perform, acting as an advert to promote their shows as they toured the countryside. Today the trunks make wonderful, unique storage chests and can double as useful side tables next to a sofa or bed.
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