Ivory figure of a Daoist Immortal

Ivory figure of a Daoist Immortal

Late Ming dynasty Wanli to Chongzhen period, circa 1580 – 1644

Height: 4 3/4 inches, 12 cm
Width: 1 1/2 inches, 4 cm

Ivory figure of a Daoist Immortal

An ivory figure of a Daoist immortal, possibly Han Xiangzi, standing dressed in a layered robe and a feathered skirt, gathered with a belt, the ends of which are tied in knots. The figure turns slightly toward the right, with his right forearm half raised, whilst his left hand holds a bowl or mortar in front of his chest. His face is carved with a smiling expression, with the hair knotted in two chignons on top of his head. The ivory has acquired a mellow patina with age and retains traces of the original black pigment, visible in the hair.   

 

This delicately carved ivory figure represents one of the Eight Daoist Immortals, possibly Han Xiangzi, a distant nephew of the great Confucian statesman and writer Han Yu (768 – 824) of the Tang dynasty.[1]  As one of the Eight Immortals, he appears as a young man and often plays a flute.[2] The present figure holds a mortar, which was used for crushing ingredients to go into elixirs of immortality.[3] Ivory carved figures such as this were produced during the Ming and Qing dynasties at Zhangzhou, Fujian province and were mainly intended for the domestic market.[4]  Ivory figures of this fine quality and subject matter are rare.  A closely comparable ivory figure of Han Zhonli, dated to 1580 – 1644, holding a tortoise supported on a fan and wearing a similar feather skirt is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.[5]  An ivory figure of He Xiangu, dated to the same period, is comparable in that she holds a mortar in her hands.  This figure is illustrated in Chinese Ivories from the Shang to the Qing.[6]  Two further comparable ivory figures of Han Xiangzi playing a flute, both larger in size and dating from the same period, are respectively in the collection of the British Museum[7] and the Muwen Tang collection.[8]

 

Provenance:   ex-collection of Dr. E. Widmaier; Spink & Son Ltd London, 1989 (with a label on the base); private collection, UK

Published:   Watson, W. ed. Chinese Ivories from the Shang to the Qing, Oriental Ceramic Society and British Museum, London, 1984, no. 48, p. 68

1 Watson, W. ed. Chinese Ivories from the Shang to the Qing, Oriental Ceramic Society and British Museum, London, 1984, p. 65
2 Tse Bartholomew, T., Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006, 7.30, p. 193
3 Watson, W. ed. op. cit. p. 67
4 Watson, W. ed. op. cit. p. 35
5 Watson, W. ed. op. cit. p. 71
6 Watson, W. ed. op. cit. no. 44, p. 67
7 Watson, W. ed. op. cit. no. 69, pp. 78-9
8 Kao, Mayching ed. Chinese Ivories from the Kwan Collection, Art Gallery of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1990, no. 61, pp. 168-9

 

牙雕仙人韓湘子
晚明 萬曆至崇禎 約1580 – 1644
高:12 公分 寬:4 公分
牙雕立像,表現道教八仙之韓湘子。少年圓臉略顯稚氣,眉清目秀,烏髮上盤成兩髻。身軀微向右傾,右手半舉,左手於腹前捧圓缽。衣著飄逸,羽裙環腰,雙足併立。細節刻劃細膩,象牙紋理清晰。韓湘子事蹟源於唐代,據傳為文學家韓愈侄孫,通常以少年之姿、手持長簫現世。明清之際,福建漳州 以製作此類牙雕人物像聞名,以內銷為主。此件牙雕仙人像作工精細,流傳有序,又著錄於重要牙雕 著作中,著實珍稀。英國維多利亞與亞伯特博物館藏有一件牙雕漢鍾離立像,同樣身著羽裙,定年為 1580-1644年間作品。另外兩件牙雕韓湘子立像,手持長簫,分別收藏於大英博物館與香港沐文堂。
來源:E. Widmaier 博士收藏; Spink & Son 1989 (底座有標籤); 英國私人收藏。
出版:Watson, W.著,《中國商代至清代牙雕》,東方陶瓷學會與大英博物館出版,1984年,48 號,68頁。