Gold garment plaque
Ming dynasty, 15th century AD
An imperial 'rank badge'
In the Yuan dynasty (AD 1279-1368), some Mongol officials wore square cloth plaques with floral designs on the front and back of their robes. These decorative cloths were probably the source of the rank badges which came into use early in the Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644). In 1391, regulations were issued specifying the birds (for civil officials) and animals (for military officials) for each rank, first to ninth. The emperor and his immediate family wore round badges with dragons.
This gold garment plaque, one of a pair, may be seen as a high-quality version of the cloth rank badges. It is decorated with two dragons and a flaming pearl among clouds. The design is done in relief with chased detail and openwork. Two rows of inlaid semi-precious stones frame the dragons. The small holes around the edge are for attaching the plaque to a robe.
This plaque was probably for imperial use. In the Ming dynasty only the emperor could use items decorated with five-clawed dragons, although this rule was often ignored.
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)