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17005

Female Taoist Deity with Three Children
Item No. 17005

19th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
43" x 15" x 9.5"
( 109.22 x 38.1 x 24.13 cm)
(H x W x D)

China has seen the development of four major religious philosophies: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Popular Religion. The latter three are uniquely Chinese in origin, deriving initially from local iconography, myths and historical ideals combined with the writings and teaching of major Chinese philosophers. These movements spread throughout China relatively concurrently, and there were vast overlaps of ideas, rituals and attitudes, often making their divisions seamless to the average Chinese devotee. The different belief systems of these major religious philosophies were reflected in Chinese culture and arts, they often merged and meshed borrowing ideas from each other and, frequently, individual figures and deities were portrayed in most, if not all, of these religious spheres. Thus, a figure such as this charming and elegant female deity borrowed aspects from all four of the religious beliefs, the most obvious being the Buddhist deity Guanyin (Songze Guanyin, or Child-Bearing Guanyin).

It is probable that is this image is a Taoist divinity, with characteristics of Buddhist and popular religion deities blended into her representation and that of her iconography. Taoism is a combination of philosophy and religion which incorporates proto-science and magic. From earliest times the goals of Taoism were the union of human spirits with the Celestial world in the pursuit of immortality and the ability to communicate directly with that Celestial world. In many cases Taoist and popular religion deities were originally living individuals who were reputed to have performed impressive miracles, may have already had a following among Buddhists and/or Confucians. These deities were then deified in small temples that may have borne their name and which certainly prominently displayed their image.

This finely carved image, although not clearly identifiable by name, represents a divinity related to child bearing and protection. She sits with her delicately carved face glancing downward in compassion and serenity at the three small figures of children attached to her. She lovingly holds one (male) child on her lap, and the other two (male and female) on her knees extend their arms for protection and security and clutching her arms.

Her presence is one of compassionate and stable composure and reassurance. Here, beautifully carved lotus-shaped eyes glance down with concern and assurance. Her facial features are refined and graceful, from her short nose to her pursed lips. Her hair, as is typical of Taoist images, is wound in a single top knot on her head. Her clothes also reflect Taoist and popular religion garb, with her high collar fastened at the neck, and her flowing robes with long sleeves extending to the base, a sash around her waist and two black scarves decorated with stylized flowers extending in front. She sits on a characteristic backless throne with carved decorations on the footrest, an often used seating theme for Chinese deities in all religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and popular religions. The statue may have originally been placed on an altar containing Taoist, Buddhist and popular religion deities.

There is white repainting in the face.

Sources:

Eloise Hart, “Kuan Yin: Goddess of Mercy, Friend of Mankind,” Sunrise Magazine, December, 1984/January, 1985.

Chun-Fang Yu, “Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara” in 'Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism 850-1850,' Marsha Weidner, Ed. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1994, p.151-182.

Keith Stevens, 'Chinese Gods: The Unseen World of Spirits and Demons,' London, Collins and Brown, Great Britain, 1997.

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