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Subject:Figurine ID help?
Posted By: Cten Wed, Oct 16, 2019 IP:

Folks on this forum have been most informative in years past, so here goes again...

Bought these two stauettes as gifts for friends, and would like to supply more information about subjects, cultural origins, approximate age, etc. if available. Both are ca. 18 cm high.

The wooden one is elegantly simple. But lacking major identifiers, I have no idea which Taoist immortal or other legendary figure it represents. Could it just be a generic old-man image, or might there be more signicance? No markings anywhere, including the base.

The other looks to this ignorant amateur like ivory or marine-mammal tooth/tusk (no polymer bubbles or smear marks), and is quite heavy. At the price, and given the fairly crude finish, I assume that it's a modern imitation of some sort. -But don't want to scrape off a bit for the burn/smell test. Value isn't important anyway; it's intended to inspire a student. I was hoping that the open book might indicate Laozi. Can anyone here please help with identification, and/or interpretation of the base inscriptions?

I'm also curious about the pose: he looks perplexed. And why is one foot so strongly highlighted?

Thanks in advance for any assistance.

Subject:Re: Figurine ID help?
Posted By: Bill H Thu, Oct 17, 2019

The ivory carving appears to be genuine and possibly made from a piece of mammoth tusk, which is naturally cracked like this. Otherwise it could be of elephant ivory and cracked with a blowtorch to resemble a legal artifact. In any event, my guess is that it probably is a 19th or early 20th century carving of the Bodhidarma, AKA "Damo", a Buddhist monk who was credited with bringing the meditational form of Buddhism to China and Japan in the 5th to 6th century AD. The Chinese form of that practice is called "Chan", and the Japanese call it "Zen". The base has an apocryphal Ming mark in seal-script of "Made during the Chenghua Reign".

Below are photos of a scroll painting of Damo, having rid himself of the weight of sinfulness, crossing the Yangtze while standing on a single palm frond. Also, a shot of my own crackled ivory of Damo meditating in a fetal position, similar to yours and only about 1.5 inches high.

The wood carving looks from the shoulders up like it may be the Daoist Longevity deity Shoulao, but the swayed stance on the waves is something I don't recall seeing before.

Best regards,

Bill H

Subject:Re: Figurine ID help?
Posted By: Cten Sun, Oct 27, 2019

Many thanks to Bill H for this informative response - and several related ones to which it led, e.g.

That fake "Chenghua Reign" inscription seems to be pretty common, and I now notice it on many Web images of alleged antique ivory. All from the same shop, or more like the word "genuine" on modern Western imitation merchandise? I'm still curious about the other mark, which looks like a Pacific Northwest native depiction of a raven's head or some such. Just random noise, or might it mean something?

Also curious about the archetype for the ivory figure. Doesn't Bodhidarma always have big dark eyebrows, and staring eyes (from cutting off his eyelids to stay awake)? An antiquarian friend who just examined the piece agreed that it's probably modern enough to be mammoth ivory, and said that the subject is probably Li Bo/Li Bai. Is the writing (see closeup) just stylized, or can it actually be read?

Thanks again - this will make a nice wedding present for a younger couple. | Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries |