While Ming-dynasty portraits of contemporary personalities, officials and emperors are known in paintings, portraits in bronze of persons other than specific gods or bodhisattvas are very rare. The distinctive facial characteristics on the present figure, and the specific dates of the inscription, indicate that the figure is probably a portrait of a known personality of the Ming dynasty. As yet, however, the cyclical dates cited in the inscription have not been linked to a specific person.
Some general events that took place in China in the years included in the inscription are noteworthy. In 1582 the Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng (1525–1582) died and the Wanli Emperor took up the reins of government. The Wanli Emperor’s first son Zhu Changluo, the future Taichang Emperor, was born, and the Jesuit Matteo Ricci arrived in Macau. In 1606 the Wanli Emperor’s grandson was born, and Zhu Changluo’s birth mother was promoted to ‘imperial concubine of the highest rank’. In 1607 Matteo Ricci and Xu Quanqi published their translation of Euclid, and in 1608 production stopped at the imperial kilns.
This fascinating figure was once part of the famed collection of the American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke. (Fig. 1) Born in 1912, she was the only child of James Buchanan Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Energy Company. Adventurous, intelligent and independent, Doris Duke was determined not to be defined by the social expectations of her wealth. She was an avid collector and pursued many interests, including travel, the arts, historic preservation, environmental conservation, wildlife and horticulture. Fascinated by different cultures, Doris Duke gathered countless treasures on her worldwide excursions and acquired remarkable collections of Islamic and Southeast Asian art, as well as jewels and Chinese art. When she died in 1993 she left her fortune, her properties and her extensive collections of art to a foundation to be created in her name: the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.