Lacquer and inlaid mother-of-pearl box with qilin
Ming Dynasty, 17th century
A lacquered wood box and cover of octafoil shape, the top and sides inlaid with tiny pieces of mother-of-pearl. The sleeve cover has a flat lid, which is decorated with a qilin, the animal portrayed at the centre of a landscape, with rocks appearing at the bottom. To the right of the qilin is a tree in the background, with its branches and leaves extending toward the top of the landscape. The sides of the box are inlaid with an intricate geometric diaper pattern. On the inside, the sides are inlaid with scattered flower heads. The piece is contained within a 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
- Bartholomew, T.T., Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco 2006, p. 78.