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AN IMPRESSIVE LARGE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A DAOIST DEITY
AN IMPRESSIVE LARGE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A DAOIST DEITY

CHINA, MING DYNASTY, 16TH CENTURY

Details
AN IMPRESSIVE LARGE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A DAOIST DEITY
CHINA, MING DYNASTY, 16TH CENTURY
The figure, with benevolent expression, is finely cast in a seated position with hands clasped together in front of the chest, and wearing a voluminous robe that falls to the top of his ruyi-toed shoes and is secured with a court belt and a long sash tied in a bow between the legs. The borders are variously engraved with dragons chasing flaming pearls, floral scroll and zabao (miscellaneous treasures). The deity also wears a ribbed headdress secured by a hairpin and hung with cords that trail behind the ears and are then crossed above a lock-form pendant.
29½ in. (75 cm.) high, stand

Lot Essay

This imposing figure, with his handsome and benevolent features, most likely represents Tianguan, the Heaven Official, one of the Three High Officials of Daoism. His role is to give people their alloted share of luck and happiness, and he is also sometimes identified with Fuxing, the "star" god of Happiness.

The type of ribbed court hat ("curling cloud crown"), robe, ruyi-toed shoes and the lock pendant worn by this figure appear to be based on the emperor's court dress during the Song dynasty, which is represented by reconstructions based on historical documents and "Portraits of monarchs of Various Dynasties" exhibited at Nanxu Palace, illustrated by Zhou Xun and Gao Chunming in 5000 Years of Chinese Costumes, Hong Kong, 1984, pp. 108-9, figs. 185, 186, and 188. Also illustrated, p. 109, fig. 189, is a painting of the Emperor Song Xuanzu wearing this type of court dress.

This court dress continued into the Ming dynasty, and is the type worn not only by the present figure but also related Daoist deities depicted in paintings of early Ming date. See, for example, the seven star-gods of the Central Dipper depicted in a painting entitled, Lords of the Root Destiny Stars of the Northern and Central Dippers, dated Jingtai reign, 1454, published by Stephen Little in Daoism and the Arts of China, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 248, no. 78. The author notes that the hats worn by these deities distinguished their places in the celestial hierarchy.

The same hats are also worn by two Daoist deities in a painting, Gods of the Twenty-eight Lunar Mansions, also dated to 1454, in the Museé National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, Paris, illustrated ibid., p. 249, no. 79. The court hats worn by the Daoist deities in the two paintings are tied under the chin with cords, while on the present figure these cords fall behind the ears and are crossed together neatly above the rectangular lock pendant. This variation is perhaps an attempt to render the task of casting easier when transforming such figures into the sculptural form. This same depiction of the cords is seen on a large, similarly attired, stone figure of an official standing along the spirit road to a Ming-dynasty imperial tomb in the Changping District, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo Meishu Quanji; Yuan Ming Qing diaosu, vol. 6, Beijing, 1988, p. 118, no. 128.

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