Lot 4029. A very rare gold brocade rank badge of a qilin, buzi, Ming dynasty, 15th-16th century; 14 3/4 in. (37.5 cm.) squareEstimate 280,000 - HKD 350,000. Price realised HKD 250,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2012.  

Made for an imperial noble. The square badge is woven with gold thread on a midnight blue satin ground with a crouching muscular qilin, with dragon head, scaly body and hoofed legs. The beast partially resting on a rocky outcrop above rolling and cresting waves. To the sides are lotus, lingzhi and bamboo growing from rocky cliffs. The sky is filled with ruyi-shaped clouds and flames.

Provenance: Linda Wrigglesworth, London.

NoteInsignia badges were first introduced shortly after the establishment of the Ming dynasty in 1368. The earliest laws governing insignia badges date from 1391. Those laws specified that imperial dukes were permitted to wear badges decorated with the mythical qilin. However, during the Ming period, the right to actually wear the appropriate badge also had to be granted by the emperor himself as an honour. Rank in itself did not entitle even the highest noble to wear insignia badges.

Another example of this design survives in a private collection, and is published by Jackson & Hugus, Ladder to the Clouds, 1999, p. 111. That badge has an identical pattern but is woven on a red ground and has been reused in Tibet for ritual purpose.

Christie's. The Imperial Sale,  Hong Kong, 30 May 2012