Celestial Official

Object nr. 207 China, Possibly Shaanxi Province, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), 16th century Height: 78.5 cm | Width: 28.8 cm

- Private Collection, Belgium 2020
- At Auction Palais de Beaux –Arts, Brussels, February 1954 lot 76

Condition Report available

Price on request

This object can be viewed in our gallery.

Additional Information

Celestial Official

A large lead-glazed pottery (liuli yao) figure of an official. This distinguished standing figure, is dressed in layered tri-coloured robes and beribboned belt. He wears a formal headdress, secured with a pin and tied with ribbons under the chin. The turned up toes of his lotus shoes, peak out from under the hem and he holds a folded book with both his hands. He has a serene expression and a stately demeanour, the elongated earlobes indicating he is a celestial figure. The robes and hat are glazed in a glossy Sancai palette of green, aubergine and yellow. His hands neck and face are left unglazed, with some glazing from the headdress running down. He stands on a square base, which is partially glazed. Large figures, such as this one, would have been moulded in sections and assembled horizontally; then hand finished and glazed, before being fired at a low temperature. These type of wares were typically ordered by wealthy Chinese patrons for a place of worship and there is no evidence that they were made for export. 

Though it is unsure who this figure actually represents, similar figures are associated with the judges of the Courts of Hell – in which Daoists, as well as Buddhists, believed. These were the courts a soul went through after death, a place of judgement and administrative centre of the underworld. It was here that the deceased’s actions during his lifetime - good and bad - were weighed and penalized accordingly. They were presided over by ten enthroned judges, each assisted by standing scholarly officials; lawyers who had collated all the deeds of a souls lifetime as evidence for the court. This figure appears to be holding the book recording the evidence of a soul’s behaviour.

These type of monumental tilework figures, where generally made for Buddhist and Daoist temples. During the Ming period they became increasingly popular, as this was a faster and more economical and way of producing large scale figures, rather than in bronze or stone. The manufacturers, where doubtless the same craftsmen who produced the colourful glazed architectural tilework. At the time, great advances were being made in glazed pottery manufacture; particularly in Shaanxi province, where innovations were made in the design and complexity of the figures produced. It is thought that specialist kilns for larger figures, were set up alongside those for firing tiles and other architectural ceramics.

The British Museum, London has several large glazed standing figures (OA 1938.45-24.115, 1917.11-6.1). The Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne (F78,1OS) has a comparable seated figure. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow also has various large figures from the same period.

Floris van der Ven