IMPERIAL LEATHER QUIVER
Place of Origin: Beijing, China
Date: 19th Century (Qing Dynasty)
Overall Height: 300mm (12 inches)
This imperial leather quiver is exceptionally well preserved and likely originated from Beijing. It is a wonderful example of the Chinese cross-strapped quivers associated with the Manchu of the ‘Eight Banners’ forces (jakūn gūsa).
Typically, two types of Qing quivers are found with uniforms of various ranks in the imperial guard: leather and metal quivers such as the present example, and silk- or velvet-covered pieces. Such quivers followed strict colour codes and regulations, the Qing rulers stipulating that certain colours ought to be worn for different occasions. They are frequently paired with a bow case of matching colours and materials, the outline often styled in the shape of the mythical dragon carp – a fish which, according to legend, transformed into a dragon.
This particular, wedge-shaped example, a typical Manchu design with strong Tibetan influence, is made of thick tooled leather which has been clad with a pattern of crossing lines and displays intricately ornamented copper alloy fittings. The central fitting is decorated with a stylized shou character for longevity (寿) at the front. Five bats – a Chinese symbol for good fortune – are arranged in a circle which stands for the five traditional blessings of life (health, wealth, success, family, and a peaceful death). The large round fittings depict kui dragons coiled amidst dense vegetation, while the flower vase with emerging halberds fitted to the top left corner offers a visual a pun for ‘rising three ranks in the examination’ – the highest promotion attainable within the Qing court.
The interior lining of the quiver’s pockets – wherein arrows of various forms would have been stored – survives. Owing to the open distribution of these pockets, such quivers were often referred to as sādài (撒袋) or ‘dispersing bag’ in Chinese.
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 A banner system functioning as administrative and military divisions into which all Manchu households were placed, and forming the basic organisational framework of all of Manchu society. During wartime, the ‘Eight Banners’ were effectively armies, complete with cavalry, artillery and infantry.
 See Illustrated Regulations for Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Qing dynasty 皇朝禮器圖式, Beijing, Wuyingdian, 1796.
 See Natasha Bennett, Chinese Arms and Armours, Trustees of the Royal Armouries, 2018
 A beautiful painting by Jesuit missionary Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) depicts Qinglong Emperor in ceremonial armour on horseback, giving us context for this type of quiver and the Manchu tradition of its use: the Emperor wears the quiver on his right hip, presumably secured by a belt, with the arrows facing backwards.