Dog Cage (Goulong)
, Late 18th - 19th century
Brass with cloisonné enamel and gilt decoration; jade rings
45 1/2 x 32 x 24 3/4 inches (115.6 x 81.3 x 62.9 cm)
Gift of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1964
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About This Object
This cage on wheels most likely housed a favorite pet dog of
a Chinese nobleman. It exemplifies the extravagant wealth and
fondness for exotic luxury items of the Qing (ching) dynasty court
under Emperor Qianlong (chee-en long). Over 60 five-clawed
dragons—symbols of the Chinese emperor—fill the blue and
turquoise designs, created using a complicated enameling technique
called cloisonné. The finials
on the top of the cage, the golden
dragon decorations on the sides, and the studs in the shape of lion
heads are bronze covered in gold. The small hook that projects
from each lion’s mouth once supported delicate silk curtains,
providing a cozy place for the dog to sleep. White jade rings above
and below the upright bars add to the opulence of this masterpiece.
The word cloisonné is French and means "walled enclosure."
Using copper wires, small enclosed spaces were created on the
surface of the object. They were then filled with different colors
made from metal oxides mixed with glass paste, which hardened
when fired. Favorite colors included cobalt blue and turquoise. This technique was first imported from the Byzantine
Empire to China in the fifteenth century, during the Ming dynasty.
Emperor Qianlong made China one of the most powerful and
wealthy countries in the world during his long reign from 1736 to
1795. A great patron of the arts, he commissioned countless lavish
objects for imperial enjoyment. Qianlong was said to have loved
cloisonné and established workshops that specialized in the process
on his palace grounds in Beijing, where this kennel was probably made.
Fit for an Emperor's Pet
This elaborate luxury item is filled with references to the extravagance
of the Qing dynasty imperial courts. Artists built this cage out of brass
by bending and soldering
the pieces to form the basic structure. The general shape, with its arched doors and pointed finials, is reminiscent
of Islamic architecture, possibly indicating that Middle Eastern
craftsmen worked in the imperial workshops in Beijing.
The rows of rings at the bottom and top of the cage are made of
jade, one of the most highly regarded materials in China. Jade,
which is too brittle to be carved with most tools, is shaped by
. Qing dynasty jade artists used bamboo drills and quartzite crystals mixed with water to grind the stone slowly into desired
shapes. Valued for its rarity and beauty, jade was also prized for its
extreme hardness, which imbued it with a sense of permanence
that was associated with immortality. Gifts of jade wished the
recipient a long life—always an important wish for the emperor.
In the blue and turquoise cloisonné sections, there are dragons,
symbols of the emperor of China. Only items made for use in the
imperial courts could be decorated with this particular dragon.
Delicate birds form the clasps that link the white jade rings to one
another. Some of the birds are in the shape of the mythical
, a special symbol for the empress of China. Together these
rare materials and intricate symbols indicate the importance of the
as yet unknown high-ranking person for whom this cage was built.
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.