Antique Ancestor Official in Ornate Robe with Raised Lacquer Designs (5686BREM)


H: 23.5″  W:15.625″  D: 10″

This exceptional Qing carving portrays a seated official-ancestor wearing the traditional three layers of traditional official’s clothing, a red and black official’s hat, detailed black boots but his facial hair is missing. He has dark inset glass eyes, a pair of high cheekbones framing a large curved nose, a strong projecting chin and wrinkles on his forehead, indicators of a man having the wisdom of age and wisdom and who demands respect, esteem and deference, but only the holes which held facial hair remain. The top two robe-layers have wide borders within which are marvelous raised lacquer decorations. The entire outer robe contains striking raised designs that include cloud forms, flying phoenixes with spread wings and floral sprays.


This brilliant antique-Chinese-wood carving is a seated ancestor figure portrayed as a Chinese official. Since the 10th century the Chinese government bureaucracy was staffed totally by  a class of scholarly elite Chinese-officials, fortunate bright men who passed civil examinations in history, philosophy, and Confucian teachings in statecraft and ethics. This process made them eligible for positions from local magistrate to the highest state ministers (Blofeld, p. xv) giving them and their families benefits of status, power and financial stability for life.  Families were eager to honor their ancestor’s status in portraits and ancestor-figures reflecting their wealth and their filial piety. This statue reveals plenty of both. His forceful face commands respect with inset pupils, high cheekbones, projecting chin and three forehead wrinkles indicating his wisdom of age. Holes on his face held hair for his moustache and beard. His officials-attire was meant to impress from the official’s hat, his extravagant three-piece robes to his boots. The first of his three-layered attire is a barely visible around his neck. The middle yellow-gold layer is decorated with a wide red trim, the color of fu, and bead shaped border enclosing beautifully gilt lacquer floral sprays in relief. The outer robe is covered with a wealth of raised decorative lacquer designs. Its U-shaped border also with beaded edges is covered with raised spirals. The elegantly folded robe contains one set of inward facing flying phoenixes on the shoulders and another on the knees associated with prosperity, rank and great blessings (Welch, p. 124 and 160). Welch writes that as the Phoenix is linked to peaceful and benevolent times, it symbolizes good fortune (fenghuang), a homophone for the salary, high status and rewards (feng) that come with an official’s position in the civil service. Since fenghuang is also homophonic with huang, it amplifies the meaning “to rapidly advance on one’s career. (p. 83) The stylized clouds (yun) scattered throughout are a homophone for good fortune (fuyun) and since they are high in the sky they are a symbol for high rank. (Bartholomew p. 105) The entire piece is covered with a smoke-black coating from years incense and candle offerings that compounded the natural darkening of Chinese lacquer over time. The small rear cavity indicates it was consecrated. As a form of ancestor-worship it may have been on a home altar but given its size it may have been in a special family or clan shrine. The front of the carving is in very good condition with surface losses; the back displays age and old insect deterioration now stabilized. This piece is set on a modern frosted Lucite stand.

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Terese Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, San Francisco, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2006.                             John Blofeld, The Chinese Art of Tea, Boston, Random House, 1985.                                                                                                              Patricia Bjaaland Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, North Clarendon, Tuttle Publishing, 2008.

Additional information

Place of Origin



Antique, Qing Dynasty


18-19th Century

Materials and Technique

Carved wood, polychrome, lacquerware

Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 23.5” W: 15.625” D: 10”

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 59.69cm W: 39.68cm D: 25.4cm

Condition - Simple

Very good condition with expected cracks, chips and paint losses for and old antique piece.

Reference Number


Shipping Box Size