Brocade Dragon Rank Badge
Starting in the Ming dynasty, members of the court and military would wear badges depicting animals or mythical creatures that expressed their rank in society. This badge has a seam down the middle, implying that it would be worn on the front center of a garment. Since the shape is a square, it would not have been worn by a member of the imperial family (who wore roundels) but by an imperial duke or nobleman. This badge would have been bestowed on the wearer by the emperor, making it a high honor. This status is also shown by the dragon having four claws, as opposed to the five on the imperial family’s badges. Where those of a higher status had the dragon grasping the pearl of wisdom, this dragon is reaching for it.
This rank badge is unique because the most common examples utilize embroidery, while this piece is a brocade. The 17th century elevated the status of fine embroidery, which is why most 18th-19th century rank badges have silk or couched metallic embroidery instead of being woven. Gold paper brocade didn’t exist until the 14th century, and China stopped using it in the 16th century, which dates this piece to the late Ming Dynasty. This piece is polychromatic and is in good condition, and nicely mounted on silk.
Circa: Late 16th-Early 17th Century
Material: Silk with Metallic Paper Brocade
Dimensions: 13" X 13"
Inventory number: TX4925