Inventory no.: 1796

Straits Chinese Altar Shrine Cabinet


Lacquered & Gilded Ancestral Shrine Cabinet

Southern China for the Straits Chinese Market

circa 1900

height: 45cm, width: 35cm, depth: 15cm

This cabinet, most probably made in northern Guangdong (Canton) in southern China for the Straits Chinese market of Singapore, Penang and Malacca, was used to house ancestor tablets that honoured the souls of the departed.

It comprises a black lacquer cabinet with two hinged doors with brass fittings. The doors are inset with four carved panels each that have been decorated with red lacquer and gilding. The carved panels include phoenix motifs and scenes of vases on tables, as well as plum blossoms. Elaborately carved friezes of flowers are at the top and bottom of the cabinet as well. The cabinet sits on a low foot carved at the front with rococo-like flourishes with gilt highlights.

The doors open to reveal a small lacquer and gilt table on which the ancestor tablets stood, as well as a gilded, carved fringe to the sides and top of the interior.

The back of the interior is decorated with a black and gold backdrop as if it is a Chinese screen. This is beautifully decorated with a mountain, stream and hut scene.

The cabinet has a small circular stamp in white to the top which translates as ‘verified as Cantonese’. The words however don’t appear to make sense in Chinese so it is unclear what meaning this stamp intends to convey.

This example is in fine condition – there are no obvious losses to the carving. However, there is some flacking to the lacquer to the sides and back of the cabinet consistent with the item’s age.

A similar example was sold by us in 2007 to the Art Gallery of South Australia is illustrated in Bennett, 2007, p. 136-7.


Bennett J., Beneath the Winds: Masterpieces of Southeast Asian Art in the Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2011.


UK art market

Inventory no.: 1796


The stamp to the top of the shrine.