Length: 4 1/4 inches, 10.8 cm
Height: 1/2 inch, 1.5 cm

Gold openwork plaque

China, Song to Yuan dynasty, 13th to 14th century

A gold plaque of oval outline, the front cast in very high relief and great detail with a dragon amongst foliage. The fierce, horned beast spreads its jaws wide open, showing curved teeth.  Hidden amongst the foliage on the rim are four boys moulded in relief, each holding a lotus stem. The back of the plaque is engraved with two confronting, long-tailed birds in flight among flowering plants.  Attached to the back are two lug-shaped loop handles.

The purpose of this very fine and detailed gold plaque is not absolutely certain, but the lugs would indicate that it was meant to be worn, perhaps as a buckle. A similarly decorated three-part belt buckle with a pierced dragon and flower decoration, dated to the Yuan dynasty (1279 – 1368), is in the collection of Pierre Uldry.1  According to Bartholomew, the decoration of “boys playing with lotus” (zishan hehe) is a pun for “may my descendants live in harmony”.2

  1. Uldy, P. Chinesiches Gold und Silber, Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, 1994, cat no. 295, p. 245
  2. Tse Bartholomew, T. Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006, 3.4/4 p. 64