CATALOGUE NUMBER 1390
FAMILLE VERTE BALUSTER VASE
KANGXI PERIOD (1661-1722)
Height: 17 ¾ inches
Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York, 2002
This vase is painted with a rarely depicted story featuring Guanyin. It is a typical blend of reality and fiction involving a Song dynasty prefect, Cai Xiang (1012-1062), who designed the marble stone beam bridge spanning the Luoyang River just outside of Quanzhou city, Fujian province.
The enormity of this real-life accomplishment has been enhanced by folklore which introduces supernatural forces into the picture. According to one version of the legend, Cai’s mother dies while crossing the river, and he vows to build a bridge in her memory. As he has no means of doing this, Guanyin takes pity on him and comes to his aid. She appears on a boat in the guise of a beautiful woman and promises to marry the first man who can throw money onto her lap. Everyone misses and soon the boat is so weighted with gold that it begins to sink. At this point there is enough money to build the bridge, and Cai is able to fulfill his vow to his mother’s memory. This story has been used as the basis for the genesis for two other deities, one Buddhist, one Daoist.
The first involves the Buddhist deity Wei Tuo (Sanskrit: Skanda). According to this version Wei Tuo was originally a poor fisherman who shows up at the riverbank, where coins are being thrown at Guanyin. He has only a small string of cash, but joins in hoping to win her hand. The immortal Lu Dongbin decides to play a trick on Guanyin and makes certain that one of Wei Tuo’s coins hits the mark. Guanyin, surprised and dismayed, reveals herself. She has no intention of honoring her promise of marriage but takes Wei Tuo back with her to Putuo Island, where he becomes her disciple, and eventually the guardian of Buddhist doctrine. This story is told to explain the placement of images of Guanyin and Wei Tuo in Chinese Buddhist temples, where their images usually face each other across the hall, looking at each other, but never touching. This placement is playfully called ‘facing each other like husband and wife’.
The version of the tale concerning the Daoist deity Chen Jinggu, has the man whose coin hits Guanyin with Lu Dongbin’s aid, discovering Guanyin’s identity and being so upset that he cannot claim her hand, he drowns himself in the river. Guanyin bites her finger for a drop of blood to revive him, and some of the blood drips into the river, where it is accidently ingested by a local washerwoman who then gives birth to the powerful Daoist adept Chen Jinggu, who is later deified. Although Chen Jinggu is venerated by Daoists, she has Guanyin as her spiritual 'mother'.
The narrative represents a good example of the inevitable blending of ideologies. Guanyin, a nominally derived Buddhist deity has been merged with an amalgam of popular local deities and suffers the consequences of the interference of Lu Dongbin, a deity from the Daoist pantheon.
Sotheby's would like to thank Yibin Ni for his help in identifying this scene. For further reading on the subject see Wilt L. Idema, Personal Salvation and Filial Piety, Two Precious Scroll Narratives of Guanyin and her Acolytes, University of Hawaii Press, 2008, pp. 191-192 and Brigitte Baptandier, “The Lady Linshiu: How a Woman Becomes a Goddess” in Unruly Gods: Divinty and Society in China, ed. Meir Shahar and Robert Veller, University of Hawaii Press, 1996, pp. 109-110.
A vase of the same form, palette and subject matter from the Van Slyke Collection was sold at Sotheby’s New York, 18th-19th April 1989, lot 293.
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. 58. [exhibition catalog].