Friday, April 24, 2009


Container in the Form of a Unicorn (1736-1795)
China, Qing dynasty (1644-1912), Qianlong mark and reign (1735-1795)
cloisonné enamel and gilt copper
Measurements: Overall: 16.1cm x 25.2cm
Cleveland Museum of Art 1963.678
Image, CMA collections online.

This wonderful object represents a ki-lin, (ki-male unicorn, lin-female unicorn). The ki-lin is a mythical being of Chinese mythology. Various tales and stories present this version of the unicorn as a solitary animal only appearing to humans on special missions, from peaceful reigns of rulers to foretelling the birth of great men. It is told that a ki-lin materialized in front of Confucious's pregnant mother.

In western mythology we are more familiar with unicorns taking the form of an elegant horse. It is portrayed in Chinese mythology with the body and legs of a deer, the tail of an ox, hooves of a horse and head of a wolf. This container takes more of the form of an ox, with its stout body. The decoration of the container is done with the ancient metalworking technique, cloisonne.

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