Iridescent green lead glazed roof tile finial
depicting a Daoist immortal riding a phoenix,
with hands gathered as to hold a tablet, his hair
tied up under a four-petals cap, his facial traits
clearly delineated with long slanted eyes and
pointed beard. The phoenix with head turned to
one side, wings spread and high tail.
In Chinese classical art and literature, phoenix
often served as metaphor for people of high
virtue and rare talent, while in combination with
the dragon often alluded to blissful marriage and
even to Imperial couple.
Furthermore in Daoist iconography, phoenix and
immortals often are depicted together. In this
case the connubial composition might indeed
allude to one of the four heavenly ministers,
specifically the South Pole Emperor of the South
(chin.: Nanji Changsheng Dadi) who would
supervise all things and creatures of the
southern cardinal pole.
According to traditional cosmogony, the south
was associated with the phoenix and her
appearance in conjunction with the South Pole
Emperor would seem to confirm this metaphor.
Images of the heavenly ministers are known from
traditional folk paintings and prints and they all
feature a bearded high official portrayed frontally
and holding the tablets with both hands, in
exactly the same posture of our figurine.
The shape of the tile would further suggest that
it was possibly placed on the southern corner of
the temple roof.