The present tray is very rare and no other example appears to have been published. The unusual form of the dragons, and the surrounding mythical animals, appear to be modelled after fifteenth century imperial blue and white porcelains.
The motifs which make up this design are collectively known as the hai shou, 'sea creatures'. It is noted that this unique group of motifs appear on a number of Ming imperial porcelains from the fifteenth century, and some of the animals can be identified with creatures mentioned in the ancient text, Shan Hai Jing, which was compiled by Liu Xiang and his son Liu Qin in the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), and revised by Guo Pu in the Eastern Jin period (AD 317-420), as discussed by Chen Ching-kuang, 'Sea Creatures on Ming porcelains', in The Porcelains of Jingdezhen, Rosemary Scott (ed.), Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia No. 16, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1993, pp. 101-122.
According to the Shan Hai Jing, the sea creatures include a particular ying dragon, which is equivalent to the winged dragon, and according to Chen, there are several attributes of the winged dragon which appear on Ming porcelains, including two wings, fish tail, and hung with flame-like banners, descriptions which fit perfectly with the four dragons on the current tray. Significantly, Chen noted that the Shan Hai Jing saw a revival of interest during the Chenghua period and this may have encouraged the use of the sea creature motif not only on porcelains, but on lacquer as well during the fifteenth century.
It is extremely rare to find ying dragons on lacquer wares. One published example is a rectangular tray in the Kamakura Museum of National Treasures, illustrated in The Colors and Forms of Song and Yuan China Featuring Lacquerwares, Ceramics, and Metalwares, Tokyo, 2004, pl. 93. The published tray, catalogued as from the Southern Song period, has two dragons with feathery wings, long snouts, fish tail and entwined with flame-like scrolls are highly comparable with the current example.