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Ivory figure of Xiwangmu

 

Height: 19.400 cm

Sloane Collection

Asia OA SL 84

Enlightenment: Religion

    Ivory figure of Xiwangmu

    China, Qing dynasty, probably Kangxi period (1662-1722)

    Queen mother of the West

    Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West, is one of China's most popular goddesses, and one of the oldest. She featured in the Daoist classic by Zhuangzi, part of which was written in the fourth century BC, though she achieved her greatest prominence in later times. She symbolises long life and is the patron goddess of women.

    Xiwangmu is shown with a characteristic phoenix headdress (associated with her since at least the Yuan dynasty, AD 1279-1368) and peach spray. Peaches signify long life in China. According to legend, in Xiwangmu's paradise, in the Kunlun Mountains to the West, there are peaches which blossom only once every three thousand years and confer immortality to those who eat them.

    The carving in this figure is sharper and more detailed than many others of its time. It is possibly an early export figure from the southern province of Guangdong (Canton).

    This figure is one of only two Chinese ivory figure carvings in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, the founding collection of the British Museum. The other is a figure of Chi She.

    W. Watson (ed.), Chinese ivories from the Shang (London, Oriental Ceramic Society, Sotheby Publications, 1984)

    J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

    S. Jenyns, Chinese art: the minor arts, vol. 2 (London, 1965)

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    On display: Enlightenment: Religion

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