The current jar is extremely rare and is of the type used to contain chess pieces. It is significant that even by the Jiajing period in the 16th century, the jar was so highly regarded that when its lid was lost or damaged, no expense was spared to make a high-quality replacement lid as close as possible to the original Yongle style. The 16th-century craftsman who made the replacement lid was obviously very skilled since he has managed to carve the dragon design in a style that is wholly sympathetic to the original 15th-century jar.
The posture of the rearing dragon seen on this jar is identical to that of the right-hand dragon on a Yongle carved lacquer tray in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Carved Lacquer Ware in the National Palace Museum, 1971, no. 5. Similar dragons appear on carved lacquer boxes in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, included in the Special Lacquer Exhibition, 1981, and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 17; in the Beijing Palace Museum, illustrated by Zhou Cheng (ed.), Ancient Chinese Lacquer, Cultural Treasures No. 9, 1993, no. 73; and in the Tokyo National Museum, exhibited in the Tokugawa Art Museum and the Nezu Institute of Fine Art, Carved Lacquer, 1984, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 179. These all bear Xuande marks, but interestingly a further dragon box in Beijing has a Xuande mark applied over a Yongle mark, illustrated by Li Jiufeng (ed.), Carved Lacquer in the Collection of the Palace Museum, 1985, pl. 52. A dragon and cloud box in the National Palace Museum, Taibei, which bears a strong resemblance to the dragon on clouds on the current jar, has a Xuande mark over a Yongle mark and was included in the New York Metropolitan Museum 1996 exhibition, Possessing the Past - Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in the Catalogue, pl. 263; and another bearing an incised Yongle mark, was exhibited in Hong Kong in 1993, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong, and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 45.
Small globular covered jars with carved red lacquer decoration were made as early as the first quarter of the 14th century. One such jar with peony design, which had survived being underwater for some six and a half centuries, was unearthed from the cargo of the ship which foundered off the Sinan coast of Korea on its way to Japan in A. D. 1323, exhibited in the National Museum of Korea, Exhibition of Objects from the Sinan Wreck, 1977, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 355.
The shape of the current jar is very similar to the blue and white porcelain jar, also decorated with five-clawed horned dragons, excavated from the Yuan dynasty imperial kiln at Jingdezhen, illustrated by R. Scott, 'Further Discoveries from the Imperial Kiln Site at Jingdezhen', Orientations, April, 1992, p. 47, fig. 3.