The Well-preserved Gold-embedded Red Lacquered Wooden Box with Cloud and Dragon Pattern

It is huge and delicately made. Experts say that all six surfaces of this box are painted with red lacquer. Although it is painted in very thin coating, its color is till bright after 600 years. There is gold-embedded cloud and dragon pattern on the red lacquer. Four surfaces and the top of this box are also decorated with golden rolling dragon pattern. Around the cover of this box, there is also a ring of loonier pattern and a ring of cloud pattern. The gold dragon in the middle of its body is strong and stately. The circling dragon body blends with floating clouds. Set by the red priming lacquer, the gold dragon looks glittering. The iron accessories on this wooden box are also made by using gold-inlaying craftwork. Cloud pattern is carved on the surface of loose leaf and lock head. And there is gold wire in the pattern. Gold and iron set each other, making this box gorgeous and luxurious.

Gold-embedding craftwork used in the red lacquered wooden box is the biggest bright spot. Gold-embedding means to paint wooden utensils many times and carve delicate pattern on it with special needle or burin after the painting drying to certain extent. Then, fill the pattern with gold foil or gold dust. As this craftwork is very complex and materials used are expensive, gold-embedding craftwork was usually used for making royal utensils to symbolize identity and status of the royal family. Gold-embedded lacquer ware of ancient China first became popular in Song Dynasty. At the end of Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of Ming Dynasty, gold-embedding craftwork had been very mature. But there are only a few utensils handed down. This gold-embedded red cloud and dragon pattern was a masterpiece among gold-embedded lacquer wares at the beginning of Ming Dynasty.

There are two gold-embedded red lacquered wooden caskets with cloud and dragon pattern unearthed at the same time with this wooden box. The caskets are rectangle-shaped. There are embedded cloud and dragon pattern on the covers and both sides of the bodies of the caskets. The dragons on the bodies of caskets have imposing majesty. The lines of the dragon's body are strong and powerful. And the color of them is vivid and eye-dazzling. Pattern and ornament on the caskets reflect excellent level of gold-embedding craftwork of early period of Ming Dynasty. If watching carefully, you will find common feature of gold dragons on the red lacquered wooden box and the caskets. That is all the dragons' claws have five toes. In early period of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang set strict rules for using of dragon pattern. Ipomoea dragon pattern was specially used for emperor, queen and prince and emperor's grandchildren. Ministers and officials at all levels could only used four-clawed dragon pattern or three-clawed dragon. This shows that this red lacquered wooden box wit ipomoea dragon pattern should be used by royal family.

The ipomoea dragon pattern on the wooden box, the red color popular among the royal family and gold-embedding craftwork which is time-consuming and labor-consuming show that this wooden box was a thing of royal family. Then, where did this gorgeous and luxurious big wooden box come from? And who did it belong to? We have to talk about that from Ming Dynasty in the 14th century AD. 

In A.D.1370, a prince of Ming Dynasty was born, namely Zhu Tan, the tenth son of Emperor Taizu of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang. As Zhu Yuanzhang loved this son very much, when Zhu Tan was just two months old Zhu Yuanzhang declared to the public to grant Zhu Tan the title of Lu King. The young Lu King, at 15, held an office in his own possession, Yanzhou Prefectural City. At that time, Yanzhou Prefecural City, covering 23 counties near Yanzhou, Shandong, was rich in natural resources and enjoyed beautiful; sceneries. But according to the record of the Biographies of Kings in History of Ming Dynasty, not long after Zhu Tan arrived in Yanzhou, he began to believe in Taoism. He censed and chanted sutras all day and was addicted to alchemy, impetrating immortality. But finally it ran counter to his desire that he was poisoned by eating elixir mistakenly and died at the age of 19. Zhu Yuanzhang was deeply regretted when hearing the news of his son's death. He thought that Zhu Tan's death was quite absurd so he granted his son a posthumous title of Huang. Zhu Yuanzhang had also ordered to bury this prince consort that died firstly in the beginning of Ming Dynasty with full honors at southern foot of Jiulong Mountain located in outskirts of Zoucheng City, Shangdong. The organizational system of Zhu Tan's mausoleum and various sets of etiquette had also become the basis to formulate organizational system of prince consort's mausoleum by the court of Ming Dynast.

In early 1970s, local people found the passage to Lu Huang King's mausoleum by accident when they are digging air-raid shelters on Jiulong Mountain. Archeologists of Shandong Province thereupon unearthed this prince consort's mausoleum of Ming Dynasty. Lu Huang King's mausoleum is surrounded by mountains, facing the south and leaning against the north. It is built through chiseling stone alongside the foot of Jiulong Mountain and is of large scale and spectacular shape.

Lu Huang King's mausoleum consists of three parts, guide, cemetery and catacomb. The red lacquered and gold thread nanmu outer coffin is laid on the coffin platform. Many utensils that had been used by the owner are also buried in Zhu Tan's mausoleum, such as lute, chess, calligraphy and painting, four treasures of the study and lacquer wood en furniture from soup to nuts. Among them two gold-embedded red lacquered wooden boxes with cloud and dragon pattern are included, which he loved very much. After Zhu Tan's death these two delicate red lacquered boxes were buried with their owner in the underground palace.

According to experts, the preserved gold-embedded red lacquered wooden box with cloud and dragon pattern is reasonably designed and delicately made. There are four holes for treading ropes on the front and back sides outside of the wooden box. The wooden box can be bundled and fixed by threading ropes. There in a snake-shaped gold drawing bale handle on each left and right upside of the box for convenience of carrying. For the red lacquered wooden box is very precious and it is hard to preserve.

Not long ago, the well-preserved gold-embedded red lacquered wooden box with cloud and dragon pattern was exhibited in new exhibition hall of Shangdong Museum for the first time. The superior gold-embedding craftwork not only gives a strong visual impact to the later generations, but also provides precious physical material for experts and scholars to study lacquer ware craftwork of Ming Dynasty in China.