Jade dragon cup
Central Asia, about AD 1420-49
A cup with the power to detect poison?
The handle of this cup is carved as a chi, or hornless Chinese dragon. A dragon handle is a convention from Chinese drinking vessels of the Song period (960-1279), which became popular in Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. The cup was probably copied from a Chinese original.
According to Central Asian belief, a jade cup could detect poison. Jade has long been valued as a talisman by the Central Asian Turks, who credited it with the power to protect against illness, lightning, and earthquakes. The tenth-century polymath al-Biruni noted that the Turks called it the 'victory stone', and decorated their swords, belts and saddles with jade.
The major source of jade was in the Kunlun mountains near Khotan in Central Asia, which in the fifteenth century was within the Timurid Empire. Timur, the founder of the Timurid dynasty, was buried beneath a black jade cenotaph. Ulugh Beg (died 1449), Timur's grandson, is known also to have had a passion for jade, in keeping with his Central Asian heritage.