Ch’ing (Manchu) Dynasty: Ivory Figure
Asia, Dynastic China
Ch’ien Lung Period (A.D. 1736 – 1799)
Materials: Ivory, wood
This is a male figure carved in ivory on a wooden stand. The figure holds a spear in the left hand and also wears a quiver of arrows on his back. The incised decorations are inked in black. The figure is 18.75” high and curves to the left. Ivory is derived from the teeth or tusks of mammals such as elephants and boars. Examples of tooth ivory are less common, and generally limited to hippo and sperm whale teeth. Teeth are defined as dentition which is not visible when the mouth is closed, whereas a tusk protrudes from the closed mouth. Tusks from African and Asian elephants, wild boars, walruses and narwhals as well as extinct mammoths and mastodons have been used throughout history (and pre-history) to produce a range of ornamental and useful objects. Simple ivory amulets and tools have been found in archeological sites dating 7000 years before present. The Chinese penchant for ivory goes far back in their history (5000 BCE) as does their supremacy in the art of carving it into intricate designs and inlays.
The properties of ivory vary somewhat by species in terms of hardness, uniformity and the basic shape of the raw material. Elephant tusks provide large, mostly solid pieces, whereas other types (like narwhal tusks) are mostly hollow, and others like hippo teeth are smaller. The majority of very old ivory carvings and ornaments are probably from Asian elephants whose tusks are relatively smaller and found only on male animals. Within the last several hundred years, however, the African elephant has been the ivory provider of choice, due to its historically greater population numbers, larger tusks, and the fact that both sexes are tusked.
Ch’ien Lung (1711-1799) was the fourth emperor of the Ch’ing, or Manchu, dynasty in China The Ch’ing dynasty lasted from 1644 until 1912. Ch’ien Lung’s rule covered a span of 63 years, from 1711 to 1799, making his reign longer than any other in the recorded history of China, dating back to the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.).