Ancestor Worship

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ancestor worship as the “veneration of deceased ancestors who are considered still a part of the family and whose spirits are believed to have the power to intervene in the affairs of the living.” Based on love and respect for the deceased, it is the belief that showing respect and loyalty to the deceased is a reciprocal agreement: the living engage in ceremonial rites and make offerings that provide the deceased happiness and well-being in the afterlife in exchange for the departed protecting and looking after the welfare of the family. Although not required, having some type of physical memorial is often an important ancestor worship component that can be displayed in variety of forms: altars, shrines, plaques or tablets, sculptures, masks, gravestones, tombs, monuments, buildings and other designated places. While ancestor worship is often associated with the Confucian concept of filial piety, it is practiced in much of the world, in many religious traditions and among most socioeconomic groups. In China the concept of ancestor worship as a demonstration of piety originally espoused by Confucius is an essential belief and everyday practice among all major Chinese religious – Buddhism, Taoism and other folk religions. The Chinese family unit traditionally consisted of the deceased as well as the living and worshiping one’s ancestors has been a means of strengthening the family and Chinese society. As the “residence of ancestral spirits”, the family altar/shrine 祠堂, with ancestor carvings and tablets is the commemorative site for daily prayers, rituals and offerings. In contemporary settings ancestor worship can be viewed as a connection with our past, and perhaps reaping the benefits our forefathers provided us.

Showing 1–12 of 35 results

  • Ancient Han Dynasty Cocoon Jar with Cloud Designs, China


    Cocoon jars were mingqi made for placement in tombs to comfort the deceased on their journey to the cosmos. An elixir of Immortality made from mulberry leaves or their ashes was placed inside for the deceased to drink and transmigrate into the world of the beyond like a butterfly. Ovoid in shape to resemble a silkworm cocoon, they rest on a small trumpet-shaped foot and have a narrow neck and a wide lip jutting outward at the mouth.  Painted after firing with vertical bands dividing it into panels, swirling cloud scrolls and circular “eye” motifs at each end, this beautiful vessel is in excellent condition for its age with expected paint losses, scrapes and adhesions of dirt.

  • Ancient Han Dynasty Glazed Hu Jar, China


    This two thousand year old heavy wine vessel called a Hu is covered in a dark-green lead glaze used often during the Han dynasty for burial items called mingqia variety of which were placed in tombs to provide comfort to the deceased in their afterlife. With a characteristic elegant hu shape, it rests on a wide foot and rises to a minimally decorated globular body with low relief horizontal bars, a wide tapering neck and is topped by a wide flaring bowl-like mouth. Its underside, like most, was left unglazed.

  • Ancient Han Dynasty Pottery Pig, China


    This glazed pig mingqi was one of many items made for a tomb to placate the spirit of the deceased and assure the soul’s access to the things enjoyed when alive. This animal mingqi confirms the importance of pigs as a food source and of raising livestock in Han China. An alert animal whose stocky body is typical, it’s dark lead green glaze and damp tomb created a chemical reaction over centuries making it a lustrous, iridescent green impossible to copy that is highly valued in China and by collectors. In very good condition, it has expected glaze losses, minor abrasions and cracks due to its age and long tomb burial.

  • Antique Lacquer and Gilt Straits Chinese (Peranakan) Shrine Cabinet, China


    This beautifully carved and heavily gilt antique cabinet is a fine example of Straits Chinese furniture made in Guangdong for the Southeast Asia market.  Double hinged vertical doors with wood pegs are composed of three carved openwork panels: horizontals on top and bottom and a tall one in between. Each door has a phoenix flanked by peonies in the center panel. Above and below the doors are open-work panels with florals running horizontally. The shrine rests on a low pedestal with curving gilt lines and florals. Above and below the tall panels are thin horizontal panels centered with a pod filled with seeds expressing a wish for many sons. The inside rear wall has a painted outline of a gilt table holding a finely painted gold, black and grey Chinese screen.

  • Antique Agricultural Deity and Spring Ox, China


    To pay homage and respect to one’s ancestors, Chinese families commissioned images to protect family members, and in some instances, their domestic and farm animals as seen in this exceptional and rare carving.  Intricately modeled and deeply carved from one piece of wood, it depicts two distinct juxtaposed images. On the top is a Taoist official in typical official attire holding a hu and on bottom is the “Spring Ox” accompanied by the “Herd Box”, who together perform an ancient agricultural rituals at the end of each winter to wake the earth up so that spring can arrive This is an exceptional and rare statue with considerable history and iconographic significance.


  • Antique Ancestor In Mandarin Attire, China


    This masterfully carved ancestor as a mandarin official sits on horseshoe chair set on a footed high decorated plinth dressed in a well-appointed formal 3-button Mandarin long coat, pointed rattan hat. His face is uniquely and unusually very individualized with heavy lidded eyes, in a benevolent expression and his advanced aged indicated by the wrinkles clearly depicting a loved individual. It is in excellent condition with a fine patina. This exquisitely carved image was true homage to a revered family member and is one of our finest ancestor figures.


  • Antique Ancestor with Removable Head, China


    This very finely carved figure of an ancestor was commissioned by a family of either high status or wealth, having been carved from a single piece of an exquisite and rare hardwood with a lustrous patina. The removable head, which is fairly unique, is individualized with a round face, bald head, and oversized ears and markings to delineate his advanced age, a respected characteristic in 19th-century Chinese society. There is no indication of his status, however, as his robes are simple and he wears no hat indicating that he is not an official. He sat on a detached chair which is now missing and we are in the process of having one made for it . The exquisite carving in beautiful dense wood and patina make this a wonderful and distinctive piece in excellent condition with cracks and minor surface losses consistent with age and use.

  • Antique Carved Official or Ancestor in Red Robe, China


    Dressed in a red robe with a high neck collar, extremely wide sleeves extending below the knees and a belt around his waist, this is a civil official or an ancestor standing on a rectangular base with hands together wearing along red civil official’s robe that extends to his shoes but has no rank badge indicated. The piece is in very good condition with much of its original pigmentation/lacquer finish and minor cracks and lacquer losses.

  • Antique Carving of Auspicious Fruit Offering, China


    This offering plate with a stack of five propitious fruits was affixed to probably one of the bed posts for a couple as a wish for male children and longevity. The plate sits on a base draped with a stylized ritual cloth and embellished with carved leaves and holds a pomegranateon top to symbolize fertility and fecundity  and the four fruits below are peaches symbols of longevity and long life, The finely carved fruits were painted with reds and browns and covered with lacquer that darkens over time, all preserved in this charming presentation which is in excellent condition.

  • Antique Civilian Official Ancestor Figure, China


    This ancestor figure, carved in boxwood the preferred wood softwood during the Qing Dynasty, is portrayed in the characteristic pose of a Chinese civilian official, grasping his official’s belt with his right hand to demonstrate his important stature – which was really not so important for this gentleman, given his humble seating furniture and his modest attire. His right hand rests on the his knee as he sits erect on a thick low-back pedestal. Unlike many officials who are serious, this one is more approachable, with simple deeply carved smiling features, high arching brows and a black painted mustache and beard.


  • Antique Female Taoist Priest with Hu Tablet, China


    This charming female figure with a sweet smiling face is a female Taoist priest wearing plain priest’s robe and an unusual headdress centered with a phoenix, the Chinese “king of birds” holding a ceremonial Hu tablet often carried by Taoists priests to indicate their power and status. Although there are few carved images of female Taoist priests,  women assumed this role frequently as Taoism from its inception was very compatible with feminine characteristics. It was probably included on a home shrine along with other religious and ancestor figures to bring good fortune and protect against malevolent forces.


  • Antique Kitchen God and his Wife, China


    This Kitchen God and His Wife are near mirror images and carved with fine quality and lesser but sufficient details. They sit on backless chairs on a high plinth, with similar layered gold officials’ robes with black borders and red decorative sashes with faded painted designs and clasped hands covered in ritual cloth symbolizing holding a hu tablet, and well-carved, articulated, well presented and very different headdresses. Their faces are generalized with carved and painted features, with the reverence and solemnity associated with house gods whose future of families are in their hands.


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