The sombre figure of the white bearded and white haired heavenly Lord of the Dao and its Virtue, is seated legs crossed on a high plinth with ornate foliage designs on the sides. His feet resting underneath his body, he wears green loose trousers and a long ample yellow long sleeved vest with a darken hem, open in the centre. On his head a small lotus-petalled crown with a pinnacle finial. In his hands almost resting on his lap he holds a round medallion with the Daoist symbol of Yin and Yang surrounded by the 8 trigrams.
In this diagram, a curved line divides the circle into two halves, one white and the other black. The white represents Yang and the black represents Yin. There is a black dot in the white part and a white dot in the black part, signifying that there is Yin in Yang and there is Yang in Yin. If the two halves are separated they resemble two fishes; therefore the diagram is popularly called the 'Yin-Yang Fishes'. This diagram is closely related to Zhou Dunyi's Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate. It deeply and visually indicates that everything in the universe forms a unified whole made up of the two opposite and complementary forces of Yin and Yang. If one cuts this circle in half with a straight line through its centre, both halves will always contain both Yin and Yang elements, showing that none of its components can ever be independent and free of internal tension. As in this case, often this circle is surrounded by the Sixty-Four Hexagrams, showing that the Supreme Ultimate is the initiator of all movements in the universe.
The Heavenly Lord of Dao and its Virtue (Daode Tianzun) is one the Three Pristine Ones, the highest divinities of Daoism. He is also recognised as Laozi, and also called the Supreme Venerable Sovereign since the Northern Wei Dynasty. According to the biographies of Laozi collected by Ge Hong in the Biographies of the Immortals, Laozi is said to have been born before Heaven and Earth, after 72 years' stay in his mother's womb. He was born under a plum tree with the ability to speak, and took his surname "Li" after the tree. According to the Inscription in Honor of Laozi written by Bian Shao, prime Minister of Chen, in the eighth year of the Yanxi Era of the Eastern Han dynasty, Laozi "came out of the Vital Breath of Chaos, and is as eternal as the three lights of the Sun, Moon and Stars." "As the incarnation of Dao, he shelters and saves people."
The Seven Slips of a Cloudy Satchel says, "Laozi is the Venerable Sovereign and avatar of Dao. He is the Ancestor of Original Vital Breath and the Root of Heaven and Earth. Coming out of Spontaneity, the subtle origin of the great Dao is born from non-birth, precedes the unprecedented, is formed from the Empty Grotto, and creates and nourishes Heaven and Earth.
He is believed to be the highest true perfect Dao, numinous and subtle beyond name. Hence he is often portrayed holding the great diagram of Supreme Ultimate.
In the Halls of the Three Pristine Ones of Daoist temples, the heavenly lord of Dao always appears to the right of the Primeval Lord of Heaven, as a white-haired and white-bearded elder man.
Our sculpture can be safely attributed to the Ming dynasty and, given the presence of floral pattern on the plinth, it was possibly created in Shaanxi province and within the reign of the Emperor Wanli.