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Wood Statue of a Court Official
Item No. 16221

18th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Wood with Pigmentation
32.5" x 18" x 14"
( 82.55 x 45.72 x 35.56 cm)
(H x W x D)

This finely carved seated image is a form of popular religion ancestor figure produced for Chinese families for centuries to immortalize and honor their ancestors. He is depicted as a civil official wearing his court robes and cap. As is typical of court officials, he is portrayed with a rigid wide girdle or belt which, like a hoop, extends beyond his corpulent body and is held with his right hand to emphasize his rank and importance while his left hand rests firmly on his knee. He wears the attire of a dignitary, with a high collared flowing robe with long bellowing sleeves covering all but his hands, and falling to reveal the tops of his rui shaped shoes, shoes worn by those of rank.

Traditionally, the expressions of ancestor figures are virtually identical—dignified and detached with a somber forward gaze and impassive mouth as seen in this image. Although, faces of the ancestor figures were generally portrayed realistically with attention to idiosyncratic personal features they depict no indications of the psychology, emotional state, taste or personality of the sitter. Although the faces are not idealized, certain physiognomic qualities that are believed to correspond with favorable character traits might be emphasized. The finely molded face of this figure, with remains of the lacquer coat which originally covered it, has inset glass eyes which peer out confidently, from under almond shaped lids. The face is pierced for hair for his moustache, beard and just below his pendulous ears (symbolic of his wisdom) while the hair on the top of his head is painted.

Stuart and Rawski in their book about ancestor portraits state that ancestor figures are customarily “shrouded in stillness, removed from a worldly activity and never performs as gesture more active than fingering a costume accessory. “( 1 ) This image, however, is depicted in a more lively and engaging manner: his left foot is tilted up as if anticipating movement. The authors also state that “conceptually, ancestors were visualized almost like deities, and in the pictorial tradition from the mid Ming onward Chinese ancestors increasingly came to look like gods and vice versa.” (2)

This piece was made in Fukien, and there has been some repainting on the face.


Jan Stuart and Evelyn S. Rawski, Worshipping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits, Washington D.C, Stanford University Press, 2001. (1, 2)

Select for detailed information about Statues of Chinese Officials.

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