Box with Double-Dragon Design

Accession Number

Box with Double-Dragon Design


Artist Nationality
Korean (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1900

Medium & Support
lacquered wood with mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell, and copper wire inlays

7 7/8 x 30 x 17 7/16 in. (20 x 76.2 x 44.2 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Linda Dresner Levy and Ed Levy, Jr.

Label copy

Box with double-dragon design

Korea, Joseon period (1392–1910)
ca. 1900
Lacquered wood with mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell, and copper wire inlays Gift of Linda Dresner Levy and Ed Levy, Jr., 2007/2.8

This box decorated with a dragon motif would also have been found in a woman’s room. From at least the seventh century, dragons were believed to govern the heavens and the seas and to the have the power to protect possessions from enemies or evil spirits. The dragon was also one of the Four Divine (Guardian) Animals associated with the cardinal points of the compass. Thus a painting of a dragon (who guarded the east) was often paired with that of a tiger (who guarded the west) on the entrance of a home in order to dispel evil spirits and to bring good luck to the family within. Dragons could also express hopes for a successful career, an important goal in the Joseon period—the term deung'yongmun meaning “gateway to a successful career,” refers to a heavenly gate through which one passed to become a dragon.

Subject matter
Box decorated with double-dragons reaching for cintamani (Buddhist wish-granting jewel).

Physical Description
Lacquered wooden box with inlaid mother-of-pearl in double-dragon design. The heads of each dragon stretch diagonally inward from opposite corners of the box, with wide eyes and open mouths. Their bodies curve in and out of the top plane of the box, creating an opposing effect with symmetrical balance. The dragons reach forward towards a flaming orb in the center of the box, called a cintamani, or Buddhist wish-granting jewel. Among the dragons are swirling cloud designs made of inlaid nacre and copper wire.

The lid of the box completely covers the box from top to bottom. The box was used to store clothes. The design of the lid shows a pair of dragons arranged around cintāmaṇi at the center. The bottom edge of the lid is decorated with a row of dots. The dragons are rendered with mother-of-pearl. Cintāmaṇi in the middle of the lid is rendered with tortoiseshell. The row of dots was rendered alternately with mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell. The outlines of the dragons’ bodies are rendered with twisted copper wire, while their whiskers are rendered with thin copper strings. The fabric that lines the interior is Japanese, which suggests that the previous owner was Japanese.

Primary Object Classification
Decorative Arts

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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boxes (containers)
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2 Related Resources

(Part of: Exchange and Influence on Global Trade Routes)

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved

On display

UMMA Gallery Location ➜ FFW, Mezzanine ➜ M07 (Woon-hyung Lee and Korea Foundation Gallery of Korean Art)