Superbly carved with a pair of dragons soaring sinuously and flanking a sheng medallion, the current zitan box and cover, which may have been used to store writing paper or imperial documents, encapsulate the imperial splendour of the Qianlong reign and the Emperor's utmost attention to detail. In addition to the employment of the five-clawed dragon motif, the ultimate symbol of the Emperor’s mandate and supremacy, the choice of zitan, which was the Qianlong Emperor’s favoured wood type – and of which use was closely monitored to avoid any waste – is also a testament to the importance of the present box and cover.
The design on the cover is extremely rare and no identical example appears to be recorded but there are notable similarities in the workmanship and design with a zitan box and cover in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Qing Legacies: The Sumptuous Art of Imperial Packaging, The Macau Museum of Art, Macau, 2000, cat. no. 29. The box and cover in the Palace Museum, which houses six ink cake boxes and covers, is similarly carved on the cover with a pair of dragons sinuously soaring against ruyi clouds but is centred with a cartouche enclosing an inscription reading Xing chi shi gu (Archaistic Star Pond) and further decorated with jagged rockwork and crashing waves.
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