Carving of One of the Eight Immortals
Item No. 16010
18th - 19th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
30.25" x 11.5" x 8.75"
( 76.835 x 29.21 x 22.225 cm)
(H x W x D)
This fine image probably represents Kuo-chiu (also known as Ts'ao Kuo-chiu, or Cao Guo Jiu or Uncle Cao), one of the Eight Immortals of the Taoist Pantheon. These Eight Immortals, known as hsiens, are popular deities modeled on historical figures who live in grottoes in the heavens on Penglai Mountain-Island. In their role of punishing evildoers and encouraging people to do good, while helping those in distress and in peril, they are they worshiped by the Taoists, as well as being venerated in Popular Religions and the Chinese secular culture. Kuo-chiu was the younger brother of Queen Chao, the wife of a Song dynasty emperor. When his younger brother was executed for illegally sentenced people to death, Kuo-chiu became profoundly ashamed and fled to a mountain cavern where he became a hermit wearing rustic clothing and a cap of grass-cloth and frequently going without food for ten days at a time. While there, he engaged in spiritual meditation and the study of Taoist principles. By devoting himself to the Refinement of Tao he acquired the secret formula for refinement, and ultimately attained Tao, becoming a Perfect Man.
One day while studying, he met two immortals, Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan, who asked him what he was cultivating. He replied I am cultivating Tao, to which they asked, Where is Tao Kuo-chiu pointed up to heaven. Where is heaven they inquired and Kuo-chiu pointed to his heart, to which the immortals responded, Your heart is one with heaven, and heaven is one with Tao. You have indeed arrived at a profound understanding. Then they imparted to him the secret of reverting to a condition in perfect harmony with nature, and invited him to join the company of the Immortals and led him to the Heavenly world.
It is said that he became one of the Eight Immortals because the other seven, who occupied seven of the eight grottoes of the Upper Spheres wished to see the eighth inhabited, and nominated him because his disposition resembled that of a genie.
In portrayals of Kuo-chiu, he is the finest dressed of the Eight Immortals, always shown wearing the formal official's court dress and carrying castanets or a jade tablet. The tablet admits one to an audience with the emperor and it is believed can purify the environment. In this statue he wears green and black robes, the sleeves bordered in white, with his hair tied up in a bow knot, befitting a noble. He is also considered the Patron Saint of theatrical professionals.
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