Queen Mother of the West (Hsi Wang Mu)
Item No. 16096
18th - 19th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
17.25" x 7.75" x 5.5"
( 43.815 x 19.685 x 13.97 cm)
(H x W x D)
This image represents the Taoist deity The Queen Mother of the West (Hsi Wang Mu) who is regarded as the most significant female deity in the Taoist pantheon and is highly regarded in the Popular Religions of China as well. Since the Han dynasty and up through current times, she has been revered as a patron deity of women, a divine teacher who can control the length of people’s lives and is closely associated with the cultivation of virtue and immortality.
She is recognized by a single phoenix in her headdress. The phoenix has been a key iconographic feature of Hsi Wang Mu since the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) and is an emblem of beauty, symbolizing the sun. In paintings and sculpture she is generally depicted as a beautiful female wearing the robes of a Chinese princess.
This elegant image sits on a traditional backless throne set on a high pedestal. Her oval face is finely carved to impart a feeling of repose and serenity combined with unquestioning authority. She is portrayed as a woman of maturity with a full face, heavily lidded and puffy eyes with an indomitable stare, full checks and small resolute chin. Her hair is pulled around her pendulous ears, a sign of her wisdom and her deified status, and is pilled in a bulky chignon under her headdress. The headdress is centered by a massive seated phoenix. which appears almost as large as and an extension of her head. She is officially and gracefully garbed in a high-necked undergarment over which is elegantly draped a full flared robe which drapes around the edge of her pedestal, revealing a three part sash tied around her waist and falling to the hem of her robes
Her hands are hidden under a rectangular ritual cloth with a pointed tip. There is an indentation in the cloth for the insertion of a ‘Hu” tablet, a ritual tool of Taoism “used to call forth deities, exorcize evil forces and manipulate both deities and demons.” These long slender tables held in the hands of priests or significant deities were closely modeled on the tables held by officials at the imperial court. (Pregadio p. 411)
The entire image is created in a triangular form, flared at the bottom and culminating in the elaborately carved bird – which is also shaped in a triangular form – in the center of her headdress. This form adds to the statue, stability and power of the image.
Stevens, Keith, Chinese Gods, the Unseen World of Spirits and Demons, London, Collins and Brown, 1997.
Fabrizio Pregadio, The Encyclopedia of Taoism, Volume 1, Routledge, New York, 2008.
Williams, C.A.S., Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs, Edison, N.J., Castle Books, N.D.
www.artic.edu/taoism/tradition/c26.php, “Taoism and the Arts of China,” Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2000.
www.asia.si.edu/collections/single, “The Queen Mother of the West,” Washington, D.C., Freer Gallery of Art / Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, N.D.
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