The present figure is notable for its impressive size and considerable weight. Indeed, bronze figures of this very large size cast in one piece, are rare as their manufacture presents a technical challenge and accomplishment. Despite its large size, it is finely cast with great attention to detail, such as the fine borders of the figure's robes which are embellished with five-clawed striding dragons, and the fluttering sashes at the hem. While the sashes point to his other-wordly nature, the dragon motifs decorating his robe indicate his elevated position. The figure may be identified as Wenchang Wang, also known as Wenchang dijun, the Daoist god of Culture and Literature, more commonly depicted holding a ruyi-sceptre but who is represented here holding a tablet. Most indicative of his important position in the Daoist canon is a motif on his head ornament resembling a crown which is decorated with a three-peaked mountain flanked by the sun and moon. Stephen Little suggests the such headdresses worn by these deities distinguished their places in the celestial hierarchy, see Stephen Little, Daoism and the Arts of China, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2000, p. 248. A similar hat is also worn by a figure representing one of the Three Purities, carved in high relief at the eight cave-temples at Long Shan in Shanxi province and attributed to the fourteenth century, illustrated ibid., p. 27, fig. 9. Little further notes that the concept of the sacred peak as a numinous pivot connecting heaven and earth is fundamental to religious Daoism. A related massive bronze figure measuring 8 feet, but cast with a stern expression, was sold in our New York rooms, 23rd and 24th May 1974, lot 147.
The robe, ruyi-toed shoes, dragon design and lock pendant may be linked to a particular style of court dress that evolved from the Song Dynasty and continued into the Ming dynasty and was worn also by high-ranking figures in the Daoist pantheon. Daoism flourished in the Ming dynasty under the Jiajing and Wanli Emperors. During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, numerous bronze figure of Daoist deities were cast under imperial patronage during the Ming dynasty. However, few of bronze figures are known or have survived of this almost monumental size. A gilt-bronze figure of Wenchang Wang of slightly smaller size was sold at Christie's New York, 3rd June, 1993, lot 562. Compare also with a large lacquer-gilt bronze figure of Wenchang Wang, sold in our New York rooms, 27th March 2003, lot 15.