Similarly carved chilong dragons with archaistic motifs appear to have been made as early as the Yuan dynasty, as suggested by a circular plaque in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, attributed to the Yuan to Ming dynasty, included in Chinese Decorative Arts: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997, p. 41. The plaque is carved in high relief with four chilong dragons clambering on an archaistic C-scrolled ground. Although the two-clawed dragons are more elaborately carved, as one striped dragon is detailed with wings and another with a long tail terminated in a lingzhi fungus, overall the Metropolitan plaque bears close resemblance in terms of subject matter and style to the present box.
For a closely comparable ivory box and cover from the early Qing dynasty, see one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, modelled as a she flanked by archaistic dragons and phoenix, illustrated in The Palace Museum Collection of Elite Carvings, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2002, cat. no. 133. Its ground is similarly detailed with C-scrolls, circles and grids, suggesting it was carved by the same hand. See also an ivory inkrest from the Qing Court collection, carved in comparable style with archaistic taotie masks among C-scrolls, now preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei and included in Chi Jo-hsin, ed., Uncanny Ingenuity and Celestial Feats: The Carvings of Ming and Qing Dynasties – Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2009, cat. no. 1. It was suggested in the catalogue that the inkrest was made by a southern carver at the Zaobanchu [Office of Manufacture] in the early Qing dynasty. The subject matter was popular in the Suzhou region from the mid to late Ming dynasty, and was only employed by the imperial workshops since the early Qing dynasty (p. 149).
According to court records, close to 30 ivory carvers served in the Qing Court from the Kangxi to Qianlong period, including eight artisans from Suzhou: Feng Xilu, Feng Xizhang, Wu Heng, Feng Qi, Feng Gao, Zhu Chi, Shi Tianzhang and Gu Pengnian, most of them related by blood or from the same school. Surviving court archives, unfortunately, often lack the names of the carvers or the details of the works, making it difficult to match them to individual pieces. For instance, according to the records, a pair of ivory boxes with archaistic dragons was presented to the Yongzheng Emperor in late 1726, but lack further details; see Yangxindian Zaobanchu shiliao jilan [Reader of historical material on the Workshops in the Hall of Mental Cultivation], vol. 1: Yongzheng chao [Yongzheng period], Beijing, 2013, pp. 111-112.
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