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Dog Cage
Dog Cage, Late 1700s to 1900
Gilded cast copper alloy with cloisonné enamel decoration; jade rings; wood frame
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 into enamel 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 abrasion. 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 phoenix, 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.


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