Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Date: 15th century
Medium: Silk and metallic-thread embroidery on silk gauze
Dimensions: Overall: 14 1/2 x 14 1/4 in. (36.8 x 36.2 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, in honor of Myron S. Falk Jr., 1988
Accession Number: 1988.154.1
The use of square badges, sewn on the front and back of ceremonial robes of civil and military officers, was instituted by imperial decree in 1391 during the reign of the first emperor of the Ming dynasty. The badges were designed to indicate the ranks of the officials, with different species of birds corresponding to the nine civil ranks and animals denoting the military ranks. The woven or embroidered badges were usually of the finest workmanship, and metal (gold and silver) threads were often used. The image of the lion signifies the highest rank in the military.
The use of square patches on ceremonial robes for officials originated in the preceding Yuan (Mongol) dynasty (1279–1368) or the earlier Liao and Chin dynasties, but it is likely that the designs on the patches were appropriate to the occasion of the ceremony rather than to the rank of the wearer. In the Ming dynasty, the regulations governing the use of rank badges were not strictly enforced, and many officials began to sport badges above their given ranks soon after the use of such badges was instituted. This was especially the case with military officers outside court circles.
The dating of the badge can be inferred from the technical characteristics, relatively large size, and design. The composition, with the lion occupying a major part of the pictorial space, and the detailed treatment of the lion's large head are stylistically typical of the early part of the Ming period. In later versions of this motif, the lions are smaller in relation to the square. The square itself is also smaller.