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Dish Depicting a Dragon Amongst Foliage

Shared motifs and designs in the art of diverse cultures along the Silk Route provide some of the most visible evidence of cultural transmission between China and the Islamic world. Through trade, tribute, gift exchange, and the spread of religions such as Buddhism, Manichaeism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, imagery associated with one artistic tradition was often adapted or incorporated in another cultural context. Motifs that appear across the arts of China, Central Asia, and the Islamic world include fantastical animals such as dragons and phoenixes; cloud bands and cloud collar motifs; and flowers such as lotuses and peonies. Yet the meanings linked to these motifs often did not transfer from one context to the next. Similar imagery could exist simultaneously in several regions while signifying different things.

The dragon represents one of the enduring motifs of Chinese art; it has acquired a range of auspicious meanings over time, symbolizing creation, life-giving rain, and the benevolent power of the emperor. The skillfully carved red lacquer plate includes a central dragon underneath a Chinese shou longevity character; the dragon's fifth claws—reserved only for the emperor since the Mongol period—were perhaps removed when the object was no longer in the emperor’s possession.

Dragons were also familiar to Iranian, Anatolian, Central Asian, and Indian cultures and were represented as peaceful and benevolent or terrifying and violent depending on Manichaean, Soghdian, Khotanese, or Armenian mythology.

Catalogue Description:
Low dish in red and yellow lacquer, carved with a decoration of a lung dragon cavorting amid clouds and lotus flowers, auspicious symbols of purity and fruitfulness, over a lower border of waves and mountains. One of the claws on each foot of the lung has been scraped away, probably to hide the fact that this plate was originally intended for imperial use. The rim of the plate contains the pa pao, or Eight Precious Things. On the base is the reign mark of the Jiajing emperor, incised into the lacquer and then painted in gold.

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