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920. Porcelain standing Deer

China, Tongzhi period (1862-1874)
Height: 42 cm

Provenance: - private collection France 2012
- private collection Italy 1980's
- Alphonse de Rothschild Collection 1827-1905

An rare large porcelain figure of a standing deer. Naturalistically modeled, the animal gracefully stands, with its right foreleg lifted. The raised head, has gentle face with an alert expression, wide open turquoise eyes with dark pupils and flared nostrils. It is finely enameled, in warm ochre-yellow with white spots. The fur is naturalistically rendered, the hair meticulously drawn in a darker colour. There is a white patch on the breast and a beige spiraling line along the spine. The exposed skin inside ears, under the short tail and on the rear, are painted in pink., the hooves are enameled in black. It has been fitted with removable organic antlers at a later date. It stands on a European wooden stand, embellished with gilt commemorative medallions portraying the 18th century French King Louis XVI and the Queen Marie-Antoinette. The provenance labels are from the Baron Alphonse de Rothschild collection.
In China, deer (lu) are regarded as very auspicious animals, often associated with the Daoist cult of immortality. In particular the spotted deer, which could allegedly locate and consume the enigmatic immortality fungus (lingzhi). Because of this they were believed to live to a great age, and were therefore emblematic for longevity. Depicted on their own, they could also be symbolic of high rank and wealth; this was because the character for deer sounds like that for ‘officials salary’ (lu), which in China guaranteed a good position and wealth. Chinese spotted deer or Sika Deer, had several sub-species in China. Apart from their beautiful spotted summer coats, they also had a distinctive darker stripe down their spine. Widely hunted for their meat, and the supposed medicinal properties of their antlers, they are now a protected species.
It has generally been assumed that porcelain deer, were made specifically for the export market. However, it now known that there were several imperial orders for deer in the 18th and 19th centuries. The imperial records of Emperor Qianlong, registers an order for porcelain cranes and deer in 1742. But, because of the complexity of the production, there were no more imperial orders until the 19thcentury. During the reign Tongzhi in 1874, 20 cranes and deer were ordered, for which design drawings are still preserved. Technical complications remained a problem, so all production eventually ceased. Due to these difficulties, deer were also modelled seated, recumbent or on a plinth in the form rocks.
Only a few comparable free-standing porcelain figures of deer appear to be preserved, all in Western collections. The Copeland collection in the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem has two standing deer one 18th, the other 19th century. A deer on a rock-plinth was in the former Hodroff Collection.

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