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China, Qianlong period (1736-1795), dated 1741
Height: 53,5 cm
Collection BM, The Netherlands 2010
A rare dated, carved wooden figure of a seated high ranking mandarin official. The detachable bald head of the elderly sitter, is carved in very fine realistic detail. It has traces of the original lacquer and painted decoration all over. This formally dressed scholar wears ceremonial robes comprising a chaofu over a shorter surcoat (bufu), which is buttoned down the front. It has square insignia badges on the front and back; the front badge, you can just make out two intertwined carp jumping over waves. His left hand rests on his lap, the right is slightly raised and now holds a bead chain. His square-toed shoes, can be seen peeking out from under the robes; on his head he wears a detachable wooden red summer court hat (chaoguan), with a gold finial. His status is clearly communicated by his age, robes, insignia badge and headgear.
Collection JWN, The Netherlands 2017
This carving was probably made as an honorary portrait – made during the sitters lifetime – as his name, date and place of production are painted in black on the neck. The inscription translates as: In gratitude for my master Liu Shi, previous winner of the third degree exam (jinshi), carved in the fifth month of the sixth year of Qianlong (1741) in Yancheng (now Nanping in Fujian Province).
The carp on the rank badge would confirm the sitters scholarly disposition, as the insignia depicting carp jumping over waves, is an emblem for accomplishment and perseverance in the passing of imperial examinations. His gentle gaze and subtle smile, projects calm and wisdom. As with most portraits from the Qing period, this figure is also firmly embedded in the Confucian ideal of filial piety. A philosophical tradition, where it was thought appropriate to pay tribute to and honour ones elders and masters. Within this convention, portraits of wise role models functioned visual stimuluses for the future generations.
This figure can be seen in the tradition of realistic 18th century clay figure portraiture. Stylistically, this is a similarly accurate rendering of a Chinese Mandarin, but in the unusual medium of wood. He may once have been seated on an accompanying throne, with his feet resting on a footstool, as seen in contemporary painted portraits.
Similar, but undated, wooden portrait figures were depicted in the exhibition catalogues of A&J Speelman (1999) and Roger Keverne (2001).