A ‘100 boys’ lacquer screen at Felbrigg

Detail of the Chinese Coromandel lacquer screen, c.1700, in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Detail of the Chinese incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, showing boys in a landscape, NT 1398429. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The ‘Coromandel’ or incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall is fairly unusual in that it does not show the more commonly seen bird-and-flower or palace scenery. Instead it depicts a landscape overrun with boys.

The Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

The lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The motif of ‘100 boys’ (baizi) has a long history in Chinese art and decoration. As Patricia Welch notes in Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, it is said to originate with the founder of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE), who supposedly had 99 sons by his 24 wives and then adopted an orphaned baby boy to round the number up.

Detail of the Chinese Coromandel lacquer screen, c.1700, in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Detail of the incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg (NT 1398429). ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Male children were particularly valued in traditional China because of the importance attached to continuing the family line and to the maintenance of filial duties and rites.

The symbolic qualities of the scenery are strengthened by the auspicious objects and animals that the children hold and play with.

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Detail of the incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg (NT 1398429). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the side panels of this seven-paneled screen is not Chinese, suggesting that it may originally have been half of a twelve-paneled screen – such large screens were often divided after being exported to the west.

The heyday of these incised screens was in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when they were very fashionable in Europe. This one may have been originally acquired by William Windham I (1647–89), who built the baroque west front of Felbrigg in the 1680s.

3 Responses to “A ‘100 boys’ lacquer screen at Felbrigg”

  1. Randi Says:

    What a lovely piece! One could look at the details for days and not see all the nuances. The founder of the Zhou dynasty’s story reminds me of the Mormon leader Brigham Young’s many children by his various wives! Very interesting post.

  2. Cherry Ashton Says:

    Fascinating as I am a Room Guide at Felbrigg, this really updates me on the story of the screen.

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Randi, I agree with you, on both counts – although the number of the Zhou king’s children is probably a bit more apocryphal than the number of Brigham Young’s children! Also, in East Asia the number 100 generally has the connotation of ‘abundance’ and ‘innumerable’ and so is conveniently symbolic.

    Cherry, great to hear you work at Felbrigg. The Japanese cabinet with the cranes in the room called the Cabinet at Felbrigg is from roughly the same period, so was probably also acquired by William Windham I (http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1398387).

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