Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Rank Badge with Qilin

Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
16th–early 17th century
Silk embroidery on silk gauze
Overall: 13 1/2 x 13 1/2 in. (34.3 x 34.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1941
Accession Number:
Not on view
The unusual animal on this rank badge is an alternative representation of the qilin, an auspicious mythological beast that is said to appear in the reign of a virtuous ruler. In the Ming dynasty, qilin badges were worn as the insignia of nobles.
The qilin seen here is similar to one on a badge excavated from the tomb of Duke Xu Fu, who died in 1517. The animal in Xu Fu's badge has a slightly longer neck, but its coat has a similar hexagonal pattern. That pattern is also found on a painted giraffe exhibited nearby. A gift of this exotic beast to the Yongle emperor in 1414 occasioned many flattering comments among senior officials that a qilin had appeared, implying that the Yongle emperor, a usurper, was the rightful ruler. This occurrence must have been the beginning of the conflation of giraffe and qilin.
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