Shou – Lao

China

Ming Dynasty, 1638 – 1644
Carved ivory
H. 13 cm.

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Shou Lao is the Taoist god of Longevity and is depicted as an old master with a beard and an elongated head, leaning on his crook.
In a formal level, in this interesting piece, we can appreciate the parameters of simplicity and balance that characterize the Ming Dynasty carvings, whose lines are softened and simplified in technique.

Although it is not the case of the figure shown here, from Shou-Lao’s crook sometimes sprouts several peaches, which is the fruit to symbolize the immortality. Moreover, the deity usually appears next to a deer, considered the only animal able to find the mythical linghzi, the mushroom of the immortality.

Precisely, this piece belongs to the Ming Dynasty, when the veneration of the so-called ‘Star Gods’ begins: Fu, symbol of good fortune; Lu, symbol of prosperity; and Shou, symbol of longevity. Thus, in Taoism, Shou-Lao symbolizes the star Canopus, only visible in March and April. Hence, he is considered as the incarnation of spring, rebirth, peace and meaningful life.

We can find a larger-sized piece from the same period, and which is very similar in terms of technique and type, at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Inventory No: 1940,691, donated by Mr. James Parmelee.

Bibliography:

MASPERO Henry. Taoism and Chinese religions. Madrid (2000).

LAO TZU, Tao te ching: Tao books. Trotta, Madrid (2006).