Mother-of-pearl inlaid box of octafoil form

Mother-of-pearl inlaid box of octafoil form

Ming dynasty, 17th century

Height: 3 1/8 inches, 8 cm
Width: 3 3/4 inches, 9.5 cm

A lacquered wood box and sleeve cover of octafoil shape, the top and sides inlaid with tiny pieces of mother-of-pearl. The flat lid is decorated with a qilin. The mythical, bushy-tailed animal is portrayed in the centre of a landscape with one of its front legs half-raised and his three other legs on the ground. To the right of the qilin in the background is a tree, with its branches and leaves extending toward the top of a landscape, whilst rugged rocks appear at the bottom. The sides of the box are inlaid with an intricate geometric pattern. The box is contained in an old Japanese wooden box.

This small, exquisitely inlaid box is of a very unusual shape and has an equally unusual decoration of a single mythical animal in a landscape setting. The qilin has the body of a deer, the forehead of a wolf, the tail of an ox, and the hooves of a horse. The animal represents good fortune as it only appears during the power of a benevolent king. Other symbols connected to the qilin include longevity, grandeur, felicity, illustrious offspring, and wise administration.1

Provenance: private collection, Japan

  1. Tse Bartholomew, T. Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006, p. 7

明 十七世紀 高:8公分 寬:9.5 公分