Lot 16. A blanc-de-chine figure of Guandi, 17th century; 46cm (18 1/8in) high. Sold for £25,000 (€29,931). Photo courtesy Bonham's
The figure finely modelled wearing a cloth cap tied in a simple knot over the head with two trailing ribbons, the face with steeply-slanting eyes beneath frowning brows and the mouth surrounded by holes for a moustache and beard, the hands clasped across the rounded belly and concealed beneath long flowing sleeves, the figure standing on an integral base deeply incised, all covered in a rich creamy glaze.
Note: This blanc-de-chine statue depicts the real historical figure of the military General Guan Yu (also known as Guandi and Guangong; died 219) who became glorified in the Ming Dynasty historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong. The historical novel narrates the battles and political manoeuvres of the civil war between three kingdoms at the end of the Han Dynasty. In the novel, Guan Yu's deeds and moral qualities were lionised and he was hailed as a hero and protector of the people. His deification however, began long before this famous piece of literature was published.
It was during the mid to late Ming period especially however, that the worship revolving around military heroes, such as Guan Yu, strengthened. This cult of Guan Yu was due in part to the Tumu crisis of 1449, when the Ming Emperor Zhengtong went on a haphazard military campaign against the Mongols, and was humiliatingly taken hostage. As such, whenever this otherwise civilian orientated society was under threat from foreign invasion, military heroes were resuscitated. By the late Ming period, many temples and shrines in dedication to Guan Yu sprang up.
A very similar blanc-de-chine figure of Guandi, the God of war, can be found in the British Museum. See Jessica Harrison-Hall, Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, p 512.
Bonhams. FINE CHINESE ART. London, New Bond Street. 7 Nov 2013