A similar pair in a private Hong Kong collection carved with a qilin on one splat and a pair of deer on the other, is illustrated by J. Levenson, (ed.), Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, National Gallery of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1991, pp. 485-486, no. 345, then on loan from Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. The same chairs are illustrated by B. Flynn, "Chinese Furniture in Two Columbian Exhibitions: 1983 and 1992," Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring 1993, pp. 48-51, fig. 4, where they are discussed as possibly part of a set of eight. This pair of chairs in Hong Kong are also illustrated in C. Evarts, "Best of the Best" An Exhibition of Ming Furniture from Private Collections, in Arts of Asia, May-June, 1995, pp.139, no.5. Evarts has recently suggested that the animals depicted on the medalions may be hierachical symbols for seating positions according to rank or gender.
See the qilin carved on the splat of a huanghuali yokeback armchair, sold in these rooms 20 September 2001, lot 277, and refer to the footnote suggesting that the qilin is related to rank badges of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Those featuring qilin were worn, as decreed by law in 1391, by dukes, marquises, earls and sons-in-law of the Emperor. See S. Cammann, "Ming Mandarin Squares," Textile Museum Journal, 1977, vol. IV, no.4. The same article also discusses the lion which represents military officers of the first and second rank. The civil officials wore bird patterns except those served in the Censorate who are represented by a white single-horn lion symbolizing justice.
For a further discussion of these chairs, see Curtis Evart's introductory essay "Spendor of Chinese Classical Furniture: Highlights from the Gangolf Geis Collection", p.12 of this catalogue.
Refer to details of back splats of chairs on front and back cover of this catalogue.