A Chinese Handling box for Temple Newsam House, Leeds

Phoenix embroidery, calligraphy, calligraphy set and dragon box

Phoenix embroidered table decoration showing a Chinese style phoenix standing above water, with flowers and bamboo above its head. The braiding around the edge and the material on the frame are traditional designs.

Use : Laid on a table as decoration on special occasions

Background: The phoenix is a common motif in Chinese design, and represents the female or the Empress. One side of the Handling Box shows the differences between the Chinese phoenix and the phoenix in Western mythology. A similar phoenix motif can be found on the Oriental style18th century silk counterpane seen on the bed in the Darnley Room at Temple Newsam House


Chinese calligraphy, which translates as “ Be as lucky as you wish

Use: Hung on a wall as a decoration

Background: Calligraphy is greatly respected as an art form in China. Painting and calligraphy are closely connected, and both aim for simplicity and harmony. Traditional Chinese artists combined poetry, calligraphy and painting as a form of spiritual practice.


Calligraphy box containing five brushes, black ink block, ceramic brush holder, small brass spoon, ceramic dish for water, ceramic dish with lid containing red ink, stone stamp, slate dish

Use: Equipment for doing traditional Chinese calligraphy. The black ink block would be ground down on the slate dish, and small amounts of water added with the spoon. Different brushes would be used to create different effects. The calligrapher would carve their name or a distinctive character into the bottom of the stone stamp and use the red ink to put their seal on to their picture


A wooden box with red leather covering and brass clasp. Dragon and phoenix design on top. Lined with antique effect paper with pictures and writing.

Use: This ornamental box might be used for keeping precious things like jewellery or keepsakes. The dragon and the phoenix on the top of the box are symbols you will often see in Chinese culture.

Background: The dragons we are familiar with in the West are usually fire-breathing monsters guarding treasure in a far off cave. In Chinese culture dragons are wise and powerful creatures that can control the weather. They are long and thin like a snake and can fly even though they have no wings. It is said that they are made up of nine other creatures: the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the tail of an ox, the horns of a stag, the neck of a snake, the whiskers of a cat, claws of an eagle, feet of a tiger and scales of a carp. Chinese dragons can change their size and be as big as the whole world or as small as a silkworm. They are associated with the Emperor and are seen as possessing male (yang) powers. The phoenix is seen as female (yin) and is associated with the Empress. She is very different to the bird that rises from the ashes in Western stories. The Chinese Phoenix looks more like a peacock with long colourful feathers. It is said to have the beak of a cockerel, the face of a swallow, the forehead of a chicken, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the back of a tortoise, the hindquarters of a stag and the tail of a fish. The phoenix is the queen of all birds and is gentle and caring towards other creatures, eating nothing but dewdrops. The phoenix is a symbol of loyalty and virtue and appears during times of peace and prosperity, but hides when trouble is coming.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries | 
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