Antique Polychrome Mazu “Holy Mother in Heaven,” China (3429AEM)


H: 19.25″  W: 10″  D: 8.75″

Seated imperiously on a horseshoe chair with legs on a turquoise embossed pedestal on a base with carved  characters of her title “Holy Mother in Heaven,” this majestic Mazu is depicted in the imperial style, wearing a regal flat topped headdress and elaborate robes with dragons and an officials girdle at the waist highlighted in red and covered with gilt. This wonderful carving is in excellent condition after years of use.




Mazu has been one of the most popular Taoist-deities in southeastern coastal China since the early Song dynasty, a syncretic goddess also revered by followers of Buddhism and Popular Religion.  She is one of the Great Chinese Goddesses according to Irvin. Mazu was a legendary young female shaman named Lin Mo who used her vast powers to heal and save seafarers and became their tutelary deity. Legends about her prowess spread throughout China and Southeast Asia and when she died at age 28 she became a cult figure worshipped for generations as “the Protector at Sea.”  She was posthumously canonized and sanctioned by imperial authorities and raised to the highest rank of a female.  In 1664 she received the title Tianshang Shenmu which translates as “Holy Mother in Heaven” and in 1737 Tian Hau, “Empress of Heaven” and newly created myths about her feats and filial piety attested to her noble background. This antique-Chinese-wood-carving with the carved gilt characters of her title “Holy Mother in Heaven” reflects those myths including one claiming that at her death when she reached the top of a mountain to meet her destiny she was engulfed by clouds while music played, a bright orange and gold light carried her to the heavens, and a rainbow appeared. In Taoist mythology a rainbow represents dragons (seen on her dragon robes), mythical animals who are a link between earth and heaven and bring good fortune and blessings to those in its presence. The colors of a rainbow in this image also symbolize the five Taoist elements and orange is strongly associated with Bodhisattvas who have chosen to stay on earth and help others. Seated imperiously on a horseshoe chair, this majestic Matsu was carved from a single piece of dense wood, legs resting on a turquoise embossed pedestal set on a base.Her elaborate gilt robe has a white collar, a red girdle at the waist flowing to the tips of her shoes and is meticulously detailed using a blend of sawdust and gesso to form raised textured motifs that include clouds, a dragon framed by her girdle, and a flying dragon on each shoulder. She wears a red imperial flat headdress. Layers of polychrome red and gold leaf are highlighted with lacquer creating an effect reminiscent of gilded bronze sculpture with the large amounts of gold associated with enlightenment. This piece shows the decorative influence of Taoism on Qing carvings of this era. The polychrome on her face and hands has been removed revealing a white stucco undercoating. This carving is part of the VA Deities-and-Legends Collection.


Lee Irwin, “Divinity and Salvation: The Great Goddesses of China,” in Asian Folklore Studies, Indiana University, Vol. 49, 1990, pp 53-68.

Claudia Monique, “Matsu/Mazu Goddess of Sea,”  May 20, 2014.

Additional information

Place of Origin



Antique, Qing Dynasty



Materials and Technique

Wood, polychrome, lacquer

Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 19.25” W: 10” D: 8.75”

Dimensions (metric)

: Ht: 48.9cm W: 25.4 cm D: 22.2cm


11lbs 7oz


Very good, patina and wear consistent with age and use

Reference Number



18” to 23.9”


6” to 11.9”

Shipping Box Size