This exhibition explores how real and mythical animals—such as the dragon, unicorn, phoenix, lion, ox, and butterfly—are depicted on luxury materials of late imperial China.

Presenting 20 textiles and 50 lacquers spanning several hundred years—from the 13th to the 19th century—the exhibition highlights the imagery on a wide range of objects: dragon robes, rank badges, and tapestry panels for interior decoration, as well as many different types of lacquer vessels from imperial workshops. The objects are drawn exclusively from The Met collection, and some have not been on display for several decades.

Among the works on view are two carved red-lacquer pieces from the early 15th century: dish with two birds and peonies has a lavish image treatment typical of the period; and sutra box with dragons amid clouds, which depicts a sinewy dragon, is representative of the elegant boxes produced for use both at the court and as diplomatic gifts, particularly to Tibet. Also of note is a late 19th- to early 20th-century woman's informal robe covered with embroidered butterflies.