sensitively carved as a smiling foreigner in a split stance with both arms held upwards and his palms facing the back, depicted dressed in robes with a knot tied loosely at the front, adorned with bracelets, hoop earrings and a circlet over his black curly hair
This finely carved figure is likely to have been produced in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, where a large number of ivories was created for both the domestic and European markets from the 17th century. The present figure, with its round face, curly hair and belted tunic, bears resemblance to a pair of ivory Dutch merchant figures, from the collections of H.R. Norton, Frederick Mayer and Mrs Rafi Y. Mottahedeh, sold several times at auction, most recently in our New York rooms, 19th October 2000, lot 454. They were also included in David Howard and John Ayers’ work, China for the West
, vol. II, London, 1978, pl. 684, where the authors suggest that "these representations of Westerners in uncharacteristic attitudes were surely to satisfy the curiosity of Chinese patrons and not for the export market" (p. 660). These Dutch figures were also included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Chinese Ivories from the Shang to the Qing
, British Museum, London, 1984, cat. no. 134, where it is noted that their clothing was particularly fashionable in Holland, France and England in the second half of the 17th century.
The pose of the present figure, standing in a split stance with arms raised, suggests it may have been inspired by figural supports. Compare an ivory carving of a kneeling foreigner with one hand raised and the other resting on his knee, sold in our New York rooms, 26th February 1982, lot 258, and again at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th April 1996, lot 539; and another of a kneeling Chinese boy, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, included in the Museum’s exhibition Catalogue of the Severance and Greta Millikin Collection, Cleveland, 1990, cat. no. 171. See also a cloisonné enamel basin supported by figures, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in the Complete Collection of Chinese Art. Gold, Silver, Glass and Enamels, vol. 10, Beijing, 1987, pl. 310.