DEHUA FIGURE OF ZHENWU
11.5 cm high
The figure is depicted seated on a rocky base with both legs to one side, wearing long robes revealing his bare feet. The middle part of the robe is finely incised with a cloud design. The face is rendered serene and the long hair is combed straight back. His left hand rests gently on a tortoise right above a snake appearing from below the rock. The figure is covered with a rich creamy glaze.
The Daoist god Zhenwu, first known as the Dark Warrior (Xuanwu), transformed into the Perfected Warrior in the early Northern Song dynasty. Zhenwu was associated with healing and often depicted with a tortoise and snake, symbolising the north. The god gained great popularity during the early Ming period as a result of personal devotion of the Yongle emperor (r. 1403-24). Throughout the Ming dynasty Zhenwu remained very popular, usually depicted with long hair and bare feet.
The present figure is particularly elegant and serene, for the god is frequently dressed in elaborate armor, like one example illustrated in P.J. Donnelly, Blanc de Chine, London, 1969, pl.101A. Other Dehua examples seem quite rare. Several examples in bronze, Longquan ware and blue and white porcelain are illustrated in S. Little, Taoism and the Arts of China, Chicago, 2000, pls.103-106.