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.
[ Julia St. Clair Krenz , New York, until 1941; sold to MMA}
Fitchburg Art Museum. "Costumes from the Forbidden City," May 15, 1989–August 31, 1989.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arts of the Ming Dynasty: China's Age of Brilliance," January 23, 2009–September 13, 2009.