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689 European Gentleman
China, Kangxi period (1662-1722) c.1710
Height: 26 cm
Private Collection, United Kingdom
A rare Chinese soapstone figure of a European gentleman, robed in the fashion of the early 18th century. He is dressed in a long sumptuous coat, with wide sleeves and broad cuffs. His left hand is held in front of the chest, palm up. The right hand is at the waist, the wide cuff covering it entirely. The collarless full-skirted justaucorps coat is open, revealing the long waistcoat. A sash runs diagonally from his left shoulder over the chest. A cravat is tied loosely around his neck, the long ends hanging down. The incised pattern on the clothes has traces of gold and some of the red and green polychrome decoration is also still visible.
The long curling hair, presumably a wig, is gathered to one side, the end loosely tied and placed in a pouch. Such wig bags were common in the 18th century, particularly when wearing formal attire. At this time the use of pomander and powder, on own hair and wigs, was widespread. Stray hair powder, could be brushed off every day clothing. However, formal coats made of luxurious fabrics such silk or brocade, were expensive and could not be washed. These garments could be protected from falling powder and greasy pomander by wearing the hair wrapped in bags.
Chinese soapstone carvings, with a European subject matter, are a rarity and likely ordered for the export market. This figure was possibly carved after a contemporary European print, which would have been sent to China to copy. Despite the Western features, the hand of the Chinese craftsman is revealed by the rendering of the eyes and hair. Also the decorative pattern on the clothing, resembles the similar incised decor on Chinese figures. A soapstone figure of a European was in the former Ionides collection and depicted in several publications. There is also a comparable figures made in ivory. A female figure of similar size and style was in the Vanderven Collection in 1996.
This figure may well have represent a Venetian noble, as his clothes look similar to studies made by Luca Carlevarijs around 1700-1710 now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.