Traveling Box

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: early 15th century

Culture: China

Medium: Leather, wood, iron, gold, and pigment

Dimensions: H. 21 in. (53.3 cm); W. 15 in. (38.1 cm); D. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)

Classification: Lacquer

Credit Line: Purchase, Rogers and Fletcher Funds, and Henry G. Keasbey Bequest, 1999

Accession Number: 1999.61


This traveling box for a packsaddle belongs to a class of objects that originated in the fourteenth century when China was under Mongol rule and Tibetan monks enjoyed great privileges at the imperial court. Luxury gifts for Tibetan monks and monasteries made in imperial workshops combined fine craftsmanship with forms and/or patterns that show distinct Tibetan influence.

Imperial patronage of Tibetan temples and lamas persisted after the expulsion of the Mongol rulers from China, especially during the Yongle reign (1403–24), to which this traveling box can be dated on stylistic and technical grounds. Constructed of wood with a leather covering, it is decorated in oil-based paints with lotus scrolls issuing from a ribboned vase—a common motif in Sino-Tibetan art. The same lotus scroll appears in the gold damascened design on the iron fittings. The colors of the pigments approximate those commonly seen on lacquer painting. The use of oil instead of lacquer was probably determined by the box's function as luggage—using lacquer would have required priming the surface with gesso, which would crack with handling. The technique of gold or silver damascene on iron objects was introduced into China sometime in the thirteenth century during the period of Mongol rule, but its popularity did not last beyond the fifteenth century.