Exhibitions: Arts of Asia

Traveling Coffer

As trade flourished along the Silk Route, so did the production of luxury goods. The design elements on this trunk, a luxury item produced in the city of Wenzhou on China’s south coast, reflect some of the cultural exchanges that occurred as objects traveled over various trade routes. In addition to the dense floral and geometric patterns covering the surface, auspicious animal motifs—such as the circling phoenixes featured on the lid—have also been incorporated. This composite style of ornamentation was not exclusive to either Asian or Islamic culture, but reflects instead a shared aesthetic. Such intricate decoration was achieved using the qiangjin (“engraved gold”) and qiangcai (“engraved color”) techniques developed in China under the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). Black lacquer was thickly spread over the coffer’s body, then gold leaf or colored lacquer was applied to designs engraved on the surface. The decorative composition of the container’s lid and side panels recalls compositions inspired by Islamic book decoration and appearing in the art and architecture of the Islamic world.