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HOME : Chinese Art : Ming Dynasty : Ming Gilt Wooden Sculpture of a Folk Deity
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Ming Gilt Wooden Sculpture of a Folk Deity - H.014
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 18.5" (47.0cm) high x 8.5" (21.6cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Gilt Wood

Location: United States
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Upon leading a victorious rebellion against the foreign Mongul rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, a peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang seized control of China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. As emperor, he founded his capital at Nanjing and adopted the name Hongwu as his reign title. Hongwu, literally meaning “vast military,” reflects the increased prestige of the army during the Ming Dynasty. Due to the very realistic threat still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu realized that a strong military was essential to Chinese prosperity. Thus, the orthodox Confucian view that the military was an inferior class to be ruled over by an elite class of scholars was reconsidered. During the Ming Dynasty, China proper was reunited after centuries of foreign incursion and occupation. Ming troops controlled Manchuria, and the Korean Joseon Dynasty respected the authority of the Ming rulers, at least nominally.

Like the founders of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.), Hongwu was extremely suspicious of the educated courtiers that advised him and, fearful that they might attempt to overthrow him, he successfully consolidated control of all aspect of government. The strict authoritarian control Hongwu wielded over the affairs of the country was due in part to the centralized system of government he inherited from the Monguls and largely kept intact. However, Hongwu replaced the Mongul bureaucrats who had ruled the country for nearly a century with native Chinese administrators. He also reinstituted the Confucian examination system that tested would-be civic officials on their knowledge of literature and philosophy. Unlike the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which received most of its taxes from mercantile commerce, the Ming economy was based primarily on agriculture, reflecting both the peasant roots of its founder as well as the Confucian belief that trade was ignoble and parasitic.

Culturally, the greatest innovation of the Ming Dynasty was the introduction of the novel. Developed from the folk tales of traditional storytellers, these works were transcribed in the everyday vernacular language of the people. Advances in printmaking and the increasing population of urban dwellers largely contributed to the success of these books. Architecturally, the most famous monument of the Ming Dynasty is surely the complex of temples and palaces known as the Forbidden City that was constructed in Beijing after the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle, moved the capital there. Today, the Forbidded Palace remains one of the hallmarks of traditional Chinese architecture and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the vast nation.

Seated with legs slightly apart and arms bent at the elbows with the hands emerging from the voluminous sleeves of this priest robe, the god sits on a throne decorated in swirl and feather motif in red and black pigment. The crown, robe and face are in gilt, rubbed-off on the lower portion of the robe which bears traces of black and red pigment. The collar of the robe is incised in a cloud pattern covering the edge of an incised lapel which crosses over the bodice. Tightened with a red belt, the outer robe reveals the decorative border of an inner robe which drapes to the floor exposing the tips of upward curved shoes. A puffed, pleated cap with a black border rests on top of the head, just above the pendulant earlobes--a physiognomic character that attests to one's benign being, as in the Buddha. The full face and delicately molded eyes, nose, and mouth also convey the characteristics of a divine figure. Throughout China, local gods and Taoist deities were worshipped in the private and public domains. It was custom to make offerings to these figures to ensure the well-being of the household and smooth handling of affairs. Since the introduction of Buddhism and invention of Confucianism, the images of divine figures synthesized, borrowing elements from all religious and philosophical beliefs, as evidenced in this Ming representation. - (H.014)


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