This ornately decorated throne represents the supreme power of the Chinese emperor. It was made by the greatest of China’s craftsmen at one of the most productive periods of Chinese art during the eighteenth century. It is one of the largest single pieces of red lacquer in the world. It shows five clawed dragons and the exotic figures that represent people from foreign lands bringing tributes to the emperor.
The emperor of China was the source of all power. He ruled over statesmen and administrators who supported him in governing the country. The Chinese term for the emperor was ‘Son of Heaven’, and he was considered to be the sole link between heaven and earth. For the most part the emperor led a secluded life and did not leave the Forbidden City, the palace complex in the centre of Peking.
This throne was made for the emperor Ch’ien Lung between 1775 and 1780. It was used at the Tuanhe Travelling Palace in the Nan Hasi hunting park immediately south of Beijing. The Palace was one of several temporary homes of the emperors of the Qing dynasty.
Thrones do not have the same significance in Chinese culture as they do in European traditions. They had no ceremonial importance and were just a grand piece of furniture for an imperial palace. The throne would have originally been furnished with cushions.
This striking Aztec double headed serpent would have been worn to ceremonial occasions as an ornament across the chest. It is carved out of a single piece of Spanish cedar wood, and decorated with beautiful turquoise mosaics, which come in a variety of colours. The open jaws have menacing fangs, which are made of conch shell. The red gums and details are made from thorny oyster shell.
Snakes were sacred to the Aztecs. They thought that snakes were powerful creatures that could travel between the different layers of cosmos; between the underworld, water and the sky. Serpents were also associated with fertility, and with water. Snakes shed their skin every year, which may have been linked with the idea of renewal and transformation. The Aztecs worshipped many different serpent Gods, including Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, Xiuhcoatl, the fire serpent, Mixcoatl, the cloud serpent and Coatlicue, she of the serpent skirt.
The Aztec Empire came to an end when Hernando Cortez and his Spanish troops arrived in 1519. The Spanish expedition was welcomed by the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma who gave them gifts. This double headed serpent may have been one of the gifts given to Cortez and his men. The Aztecs had a tradition that the god – king of their ancestors, a pale skinned bearded god would return one day to claim their land. The Spanish became greedy after receiving the gifts and were not so friendly. After bitter fighting the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan fell to the Spanish in 1521.