- Museum number
Mountain group with a central figure of Shoulao, the god of Longevity, surrounded by the eight Daoist immortals. Lan Caihe, at the front on the right, is identified by her basket and on the extreme right is Cao Guojiu, depicted wearing a court headdress and official robes (his emblem is a pair of castanets which he holds in his hands). Made of bronze.
- Production date
Height: 45 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Immortality was one of the primary aims of some Daoists. Elixirs were used to purify the body and preserve corpses. In the Southern Song dynasty, however, Confucianism returned in force, and some of the cults of immortality faded, although Yuan and early Ming drama drew together and created a group of figures called the 'Eight Immortals' ('Ba Xian'). These included all types: old, young, rich, poor, beautiful and ugly. The 'Eight Immortals' were used as auspicious and decorative elements in ceramics, conveying messages of long life, prosperity and hopes for the birth of children. Images of such deities did not become widespread until the middle of the Ming period; their belated popularity may have been the product of a growing interest in alchemy and longevity associated with the court of the Jiajing emperor (1522-1566). In addition, image making may have been stimulated by drama and the printing of stories, in which immortals and gods performed miraculous feats, and by books of hagiography.
Shou Xing is usually shown, as here, with a tall cranium; he is often associated with the 'Three Stars', signifying longevity, rank and happiness.
The Eight Immortals form a special group of 'saints' or gods. They are often depicted together, though they are also shown individually. Membership of this select group has varied over the centuries and each immortal has his own special attribute.
Lan Caihe is sometimes regarded as a woman with only one shoe, who goes through the streets begging. She sings a doggerel verse denouncing this fleeting life and its delusive pleasures. Her emblem is the flower-basket she carries and she is the patron saint of florists.
Cao Guojiu was supposedly originally a Song dynasty (960-1279) official. The castanets he holds are said to be derived from the court tablet which would have authorized officials access to the royal palace. He is a patron of the theatrical profession.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007 8 Feb-5 Aug, BM Gallery 91, 'Gods, Guardians and Immortals: Chinese Religious Paintings'
- Registration number