Boxes of this type were almost certainly from the imperial workshops and some of which were given as gifts to foreign dignitaries. An identical box is published by R. Jacobsen in Appreciating China, Gifts from Ruth and Bruce Dayton, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002, no. 66, p. 123; where the author mentioned that it was made for presentation to a Tibetan hierarch, possibly the prominent Lama Sakya Yeshe (1335-1445). Sakya Yeshe was one of the eight greatest disciples of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug order. At the invitation of Emperor Yongle, Sakya Yeshe was sent as Tsongkhapa's representative to the imperial court in Nanjing; he arrived in 1414 where he was given bountiful gifts from the Emperor.
A portrait depicting Shakya Yeshe, rendered in slit-silk tapestry, is the Norbulingka Palace collection, and illustrated in Precious Deposits, vol. 3, pp. 150-151, no. 55, where a similar qiangjin-decorated box can be seen placed behind the seated Lama. It is known that seal boxes were among the many gifts bestowed on a number of Tibetan dignitaries who travelled to China during the reigns of the Yongle and Xuande Emperors (1402-1435). As the mythical single-horned beast, qilin, is regarded as an aupicious emblem of divine justic and an embodiment of princely virtue, it is perhaps an appropriate motif for such an exchange.
For similarly decorated seal boxes of the early Ming period, cf. an example of this size, decorated with a dragon on each panel in the Mori Museum, Yamaguchi, Japan, illustrated in Ch'iang-chin, Chinkin and Zonsei Lacquerware, Tokyo, 1974, pl. 60, no. 37. A smaller example designed with lotus scrolls is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, illustrated by G. Kuwayama, 'Qiangjin Lacquer', Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, Bulletin, no. 10, 1992-94, p. 13, fig. 15 (13.3 cm. high); and a larger box (61.5 cm. high) decorated with dragon roundels excavated from the tomb of Zhu Tan (1370-1389), the tenth son of Emperor Hongwu (1368-1398), is published by Yang Xiaoneng, 'Ming Art and Culture from an Archaelogical Perspective - Part 4: Paintings, Calligraphy, Furniture and Tomb Figures', Orientations, October 2008, p. 77, fig. 7. A small group of lacquer wares decorated in the qiangjin, 'in-filled' method, preserved in Japan were listed as items that were given as gifts by the Yongle Emperor to the Shogun of Japan, and are published, op. cit., 1974, passim.