Length: 3 7/8  inches, 8.7 cm

Jade plaque of a mythical beast

China, 18th century

A jade plaque of a mythical beast, the animal depicted in recumbent position with its head turned over its body.  The head is detailed with a horn, a beard and widely bulging eyes.  The flanks are adorned with two typical wisps.  The bifid tail is finely engraved.  The stone is of pale celadon tone with some lighter markings.

Being totally flat on the back, this plaque probably originally formed part of a large decorative panel.  The mythical animal concerned here represents a luduan, a legendary unicorn beast capable of distinguishing between good and evil.  The luduan is often misidentified as a qilin due to the similarity in style. The qilin is normally depicted with a dragon-like head with customary twin horns and four legs ending in ox-like hoofs.  A jade carving of a luduan, with similar single-horned head, scale-less body and clawed paws but mistakenly identified as a qilin, is in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum and dated to the late Ming or early Qing dynasty, 17th – 18th century.[1]

Private collection, UK.  This plaque was on view at the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield, UK in the 1970’s and 1980’s and subsequently on view at the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath from 1988 until 2019.

1    Lin, James, C.S. The Immortal Stone- Chinese Jades from the Neolithic period to the twentieth century, Cambridge, The Fitzwilliam Museum, 2009, cat. 43, p. 54