CATALOGUE NUMBER 0096
RARE FIGURE OF A RECUMBENT STAG
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)
LIKELY CA. EARLY/MID 18TH CENTURY
Length: 4 inches
Berwald Oriental Art, London, 1998
This delicately modeled figure of a stag is exceptionally rare. While painted examples and jade carvings are common, three-dimensional sculptural representations in porcelain are very unusual. From at least the Shang dynasty onwards painted, carved and modeled figures of deer have been a mainstay of Chinese art. Early cultures focused on the animal as game but there seems to have been a spiritual component as well. The animal successfully foraged for lingzhi, and was believed to store the fungus’s power within its antlers which then became prized for their medicinal use. Given the connection with the belief in the life prolonging properties of lingzhi, the deer also came to symbolize longevity. The Daoist God of Longevity, Shoulao is often accompanied by a deer along with other symbols emblematic of long life such as crane, pine and lingzhi. In addition, the word for deer,lu, is a homophone for prosperity adding further luster to the already auspicious symbol.
Examples of some of the earlier representations include two small jade stag-form pendants from the Western Zhou dynasty which are illustrated in Jessica Rawson,Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, pp. 231-231, fig. 12:39 where the author comments that while Shang dynasty models of deer are rare, by the Western Zhou, the animal is more frequently depicted implying that its roots in popular culture had deepened. Rawson also points out that the pose of the stags is unusually sophisticated as both are carved with their heads turned backward, a model similar to the present Kangxi example produced some 2,500 years later.
The Kangxi emperor, who ruled for an impressive sixty-one years on the 'Dragon' throne, particularly enjoyed depictions of deer and they appear frequently on porcelains and other media during his reign. Other models of deer of the period include a pair of similarly naturalistic deer of the same size and model from the Ionides Collection sold at Christies London, 11th November 2003, lot 163 and a yellow-enameled example, dated to the second half of the 18th century, from the Elinor Gordon collection sold at Sotheby's New York, 23rd January 2010, lot 1. Large scale models were produced as well. A thirty-seven inch high model of a spotted standing deer, dated to the late Kangxi period was sold at Christie’s London, 28th April 1999, lot 200 and a large Qianlong period example, commissioned for the Emperor’s Yichun Garden at the Summer Palace was offered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 9th October 2012, lot 3065. An early nineteenth century model of a similarly posed recumbent deer in the Peabody Essex Museum is illustrated in William R. Sargent, The Copeland Collection, Salem, Massachusetts, 1991, no. 124.
Text and images on this page appear courtesy of
Sotheby's New York and are excerpted from:
Sotheby's New York. Embracing Classic Chinese Culture: Kangxi Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection. March 14, 2014, p. 46. [exhibition catalog].