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Unknown Maker, probably Chinese (Canton?), circa 1720
Unknown Maker, probably Chinese (Canton?), circa 1720
Unknown Maker, probably Chinese (Canton?), circa 1720
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Unknown Maker, probably Chinese (Canton?), circa 1720

Peter I (Peter the Great), Tsar of Russia (1672-1725), standing small full length, in armour

Details
Unknown Maker, probably Chinese (Canton?), circa 1720
Peter I (Peter the Great), Tsar of Russia (1672-1725), standing small full length, in armour
soapstone, with gold pique points and an inset (cut paste) stone, the back not carved and set with a hole for mounting
9 ½in. (24cm.) high
Provenance
Purchased from Patricia M. Grove, Beverly, Massachusetts, 2000.
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Lot Essay

This finely carved figure appears to have been inspired by Jean-Marc Nattier's three-quarter length portrait of the Tsar, wearing armour and with his helmet, in the State Hermitage Museum (see opposite). The sash, position of arms (the right holding a baton, the left resting on his sword's hilt), the armour, including the helmet, all reflected in the figurine. Nattier's bust-length oval version painted in 1717 (Musée National du Chateau, Versailles) also features the precious stone worn just below the sitter's collar. A full length portrait by Godfrey Kneller of the sitter, also in armour, studded with gold, was commissioned by William III in 1688 when the Tsar was visiting William of Orange on his Grand Embassy of 1697-98 (Royal Collection, RCIN 405645). The present carving is thought to have been ordered from Holland, and taken either from a painted copy of the source picture or, more likely, from a print (both Nattier and Kneller's portraits were engraved). Such a commission would have undoubtedly been ordered in Canton (Guangzhou), and the piece may have been carved in the soapstone (steatite) carving centre in Putian, Fujian Province, if not in Canton.
'Of all the objects the Chinese could produce for the export market, nothing more intrigued westerners than the carvings of ivory, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, sandalwood and hardstone. ... Stones such as jadeite, nephrite and soapstone were used for pagodas, tomb models and carved Chinese gods and figures. ... The Chinese had been famous for carving in jade and soapstone for centuries. How much was brought to America in the first fifty years of the China Trade is difficult to assess, since only a few documented pieces exist in private or public collections.' (C.L. Crossman, The Decorative Arts of the China Trade, Woodbridge, 1991, p.289).
Carved stone figures of western subjects are very rare in early carvings in hardstones such as soapstone and jadeite, and in ivory, produced for the western market. There are western figures, such as Napoleon, carved in stone and ivory for chess sets in the early 19th century, but there are few figurines in this hardstone portraying Western figures in the 18th century. There are rather painted clay figures which date to the early 18th century: 'If the portraits by Spoilum in the last quarter of the 19th century are to be considered perhaps the most delightful examples of two-dimensional representation to come out of the China trade in its early years, then certainly the full-length modelled figures of Westerners are the most charming three-dimensional figures ever made. The very first of these figures, in painted, unfired clay, seem to have been by a modeller who signed himself 'Amoy Chinqua', or Chinqua from Amoy. A figure of Joseph Collet of the East India Company, Governor of Fort St George in Madras from 1717 to his death in 1725, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. In a letter written by him in 1716 he mentions sending his 'Image' to England. A second figure ... inscribed 'Amoy Chinquafe (1)717' was exhibited at Brighton Pavilion in 1986 and is in the collection of the Peabody Museum. ... Although the Collet figure suggests Chinqua was in India, all the 18th century figures known to the author which seem to follow this precedent appear to have originated in Canton.' (C.L. Crossman, Ibid, pp.307-10). Western figures were also produced by the well-travelled Chitqua (Tan-Che-Qua), the artist and clay modeller from Canton, in the 1770s.

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