Sutra Box with Dragons amid Clouds

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Yongle period (1403–24)

Culture: China

Medium: Red lacquer with incised decoration inlaid with gold; damascened brass lock and key

Dimensions: H. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm); W. 5 in. (12.7 cm); L. 16 in. (40.6 cm)

Classification: Lacquer

Credit Line: Purchase, Sir Joseph Hotung and The Vincent Astor Foundation Gifts, 2001

Accession Number: 2001.584a–c


A vigorous, sinewy dragon with flowing mane and beard, tufts of hair at the joints, a prominent snout and horns, and long whiskers is often found on works in porcelain, lacquer, and other material produced during the reign of the Yongle emperor. Although carved red lacquers in some number are known from this period, examples decorated in the elegant qiangjin, or "incised-and-gilt," technique are rare. The mounts are of iron with gold damascene decoration, and the original lock and key are cast in bronze with engraved decoration and gilded.

Fine lacquerware such as this box was made for the imperial household and for diplomatic gifts.