Beautiful, unusual colouring, precious materials, and a careful sense of depth all combine to give this extraordinary Chinese relief panel a spectacularly magical feel. It depicts figures seated in a landscape watching a sword dancer, pictured at the centre of the panel. One of the figures, probably a man of importance, is shown seated on a bamboo chair, with attendants around him.
The faces of all the figure are finished in beautifully-carved ivory, and they are shown in a exquisitely-coloured rocky landscape leading out into open water, complete with trees, flora, birds and fish. The black colour of the water blends seamlessly with the sky above, lending the scene a dramatic night-time quality.
Sword-dancing has been an important part of traditional Chinese culture for thousands of years, and has been a form of entertainment as well as a quasi-religious ritual.