Lot 38. A superbly carved russet jade figure of a recumbent mythical beast, Ming dynasty or earlier. Estimate 200,000 — 300,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby's.

rendered crouching with its head turned slightly to the left, the beast detailed with bulging eyes and powerful claws, the softly polished stone of a yellowish-green colour with patches of dark brown - 8 cm, 3 1/4  in.

NotesThe development of sculptures of mythical creatures occurred during the Han dynasty when they began to appear in large numbers in durable materials, such as stone and jade. They were placed along the path to, and inside, tombs to pacify the elemental and supernatural forces of the world. This tradition further flourished during the Six Dynasties when immense fabulous beasts drawn from the spiritual world were produced on a grand scale outside the tombs near Nanjing. Simultaneously, an artistic tradition of creating jade animals of this type, but on a smaller scale, emerged. In contrast to the earlier two-dimensional jade carvings made for the afterlife or to adorn the individual, these creatures were modelled in the round as artistic objects and to provide the owner with a constant and concrete realisation of the powerful supernatural forces in the world. As a result, carvings of mythical creatures continued to abound throughout Chinese history. 

This carving is a playful yet dynamic rendering of the mythical beast, as seen in its expressive face that bears an up-curled mouth and big paws which contrast with the strong muscular body and notched spine. A related figure, in the Tianjin Museum, Tianjing, is illustrated in Jade Wares Collected by Tianjin Museum, Beijing, 2012, pl. 173; one was sold in our New York rooms, 26th February 1982, lot 500; another was sold in our London rooms, 9th May 1986, lot 670; and a fourth, from the collection of Gerald Godfrey was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30th October 1995, lot 866.

This creature has close affinities with Han prototypes, such as its pose and bulging eyes; for example see a jade bixie, found at Xianyang, near Xi’an, and attributed to the Han dynasty, illustrated in Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jades from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, p. 364, fig. 1; and another mythological creature, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum. Jade, vol. 4, Han, Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, Beijing, 2011, pl. 299.

Sotheby's. The Muwen Tang Collection of Chinese Jades, Hong Kong, 01 Dec 2016, 10:00 AM