Lot 3647
  • 3647


800,000 - 1,200,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • ivory (Elephas maximus)
skilfully carved as an official standing on an octagonal pedestal base resting on ruyi scroll feet, decpited with his hands clasped together before his chest and holding a ceremonial baton (hu), his face naturalistically rendered with downcast eyes and a solemn expression, wearing a ritual headdress meticulously detailed with floral and ruyi designs, dressed in loose ceremonial robes with a tasselled endless knot tied around his collar, his robes similarly depicted with elaborate embroidery terminating with a tasselled hem, the patinated ivory of a variegated creamy-brown colour


A European collection.
Spink and Son Ltd, London, 31st October 1953.

Catalogue Note

This fine ivory carving of an official is notable for the naturalistic depiction of the figure, which is devoid of the heavy stylisation that characterised later Ming carvings. With his strongly defined brows, nose and lips, the face appears individual to the official, which is accentuated by his full rounded shoulders that appear to hunch slightly when viewed from the side. While the exact identity remains a matter of speculation, the tall hat and tablet he holds suggests that it may be intended as a Daoist figure. While gilt-bronze Daoist figures are known from the Ming dynasty, ivory examples are extremely rare.

The linearity of this carving suggests woodblock prints provided the source for the style of depiction. Deprived of the technique of washes in the early Ming period, woodblock prints made maximum use of the clean lines accented with small areas of detailed designs. The level of intricate decoration on the back, from the neatly combed hair to the ornately-decorated textile panel on his robe and hat create an effective contrast with the drapery and suggests it was created to be viewed from all angles. Furthermore, by leaving his robes undecorated, except for the edging along the neck and sleeves, the focus is drawn to his face.

During the Yuan dynasty, ivory was often used in palace decoration, thus leaving little for other private use outside the court. Lack of materials led to the decline of the art until the Ming dynasty, thus the few that were produced were of the highest quality. Only a small number of early Chinese ivory figures is known, including three figures of Buddha sold at Christie’s New York, 28th/29th October 1977, lot 130; and a standing figure sold in our London rooms, 8th November 1994, lot 362. All four figures appear to be later copies of Song originals, possibly from the late Song or Yuan periods. See also a large figure of Buddha, attributed to the late Yuan to Ming dynasty, sold at Christie’s New York, 19th March 2009, lot 601.