This fine carving is likely a Taoist priest dressed in official garments astride a lively horse that was originally place on a home or community clan shrine to protect devotees. In contrast to the erect and calm priest with expressive facial features, the ornately attired horse is active as it turns his head, opens his mouth, and widens his nostrils. The priest’s powers as a guardian figure are symbolized in his hat with a mythical taotie that wards off evil and warns against gluttony and his raised hand in prana mudra that activates vital energy flow to avert evil and bring good fortune.
Zhenwu (Perfected Warrior) is a powerful Taoist deity, god of one of the 4 cardinal directions (the north) and revered for his ability with magic. This statue is an excellent example of a provincial traditional small image for personal devotion and reflects his classic iconography: seated on a complex multi-tiered throne as a sign of his importance, long hair down his back, bare feet resting on a snake and a tortoise, a celestial scarf hanging in space and around his body and garbed in maille armor. He was a renowned emperor, worshipped in imperial and provincial temples throughout China reflecting by imperial titles he received in 1304 – Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, Primal Sage and Benevolent Majesty.
This vibrant carving of a Taoist priest or shaman is in religious attire with double-winged high hat centered with an image of a taotie. His left hand has two fingers pointing up in the Taoist karana mudra and holds a tael in his right hand. It was repainted many years ago common for Chinese religious statues, as families traditionally requested re-paintings of images to honor the image. The image is very similar to one in Canterbury auction of the Keith Steven’s collection.
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