Ming Dynasty, early 15th century
The bronze sceptre is cast with an elephant-head terminal with long slit eyes, small ears and a trunk characteristically curled between two curved tusks. The head is decorated with intricately beaded tassels under an inset large ruby cabochon. The arched handle of the ruyi is inlaid with gold and silver with stylised archaistic dragon design. The base of the sceptre is in the shape of a ruyi and further embellished with a blue semi-precious cabochon. The elephant head and the base of the ruyi are covered in thick gilding. The reverse is inscribed with eight characters reading 德粹乹[ 乾] 清 昭昭成象 “Its Virtue Pristine Enough for the Palace of Heavenly Purity, Where Brilliantly It Forms Its Image”.
The Palace of Heavenly Purity 乾清宮 is the largest of the Three Halls of the Inner Court, located at the northern end of the Forbidden City.
The present elephant-head ruyi sceptre is unusual for its elegant shape, intricate inlays and inscription, which suggests a link to the Palace of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City. An imperial poem about the Palace by the Qianlong Emperor starts with phrases similar to the present inscription, praising various virtues and their brightness; see Guochao gongshi [Court History], juan 12, p. 6.