Pair of Fu Dog Stone Columns

SKU TF.037
Circa

1368 AD to 1644 AD

Dimensions

47.60″ (120.9cm) high x 13.50″ (34.3cm) wide

Medium

Stone

Origin

China

Gallery Location

UK


 

This outstanding pair of stone Fu-Dog columns dates to one of the most important periods of Chinese history – the M’ing Dynasty. Carved from solid sandstone, they are magnificently rendered, and are also highly evocative of a key period in the evolution of Chinese society.

The format is the same on both sides. The dogs (actually lions) act as caryatids, and are crouched at the base of tall pillars. The dogs/lions are essentially identical, with heavy bodies, ornate swirled coats, large jowls, protuberant eyes and noses, stocky legs, thick claws on powerful feet and exposed fangs. Each of them holds a ball under the foot furthest from the viewer. Unusually, both are male. The individual facing right (when viewed from the front) is endearingly scratching his chin with his right hind leg, while his opposing number is standing more sedately. The right-facing individual supports a column wrapped around by clouds and foliate swirls, with the scaled body of a dragon wrapped around it from the rear in a clockwise direction. Its head is rather like that of the caryatid, with very flamboyant features and the remnants of pigment. The dragon’s body is wrapped around the legs of a smiling male, who is wearing a set of flowing robes decorated (painted) with floral swirls, and with his hair gathered into a queue. The clouds and background retain some blue and pale white/ivory paint. The other column is much the same in general terms, but with a woman either standing beside a large bird what wraps anti-clockwise around the pillar. The feathers are very clearly and deliberately incised as a superimposed series of oval lozenges, which harmonises with the delicate draperies in which the woman is dressed. She also wears her hair taken up in what is generally considered to be a courtly style, and is holding an unguent jar (?) in both hands. This column retains more of the blue pigment, with high- and low-lights in areas. Further analysis of these pieces is presented below, after a brief background to the period.

Established in 1368, the M’ing dynasty was founded by Hong Wu, one of only three peasants ever to rise to imperial pre-eminence. His attitudes towards rule reflected his own past, with considerable emphasis on agricultural production, an aversion to trade, a massive expansion of military power and spending a fortune on defences (notably the Great Wall). This philosophy, while partly reflexive, was based loosely upon Confucianism, with which China had had a love-hate relationship for much of the preceding millennium. Despite his prejudices, the inevitable effect of Hong Wu’s policies was stability, and with it the rise and rise of the middle classes. While in many respects a martially vigorous and ascetic time, the enormous wealth generated by agricultural surpluses led to an unexpected flowering of arts under the patronage of what was essentially the nouveau riche, who liked to surround themselves with artworks including lacquer work, paintings, prestige ceramics and sculptures both for this life and for the hereafter (mingqi). It is into the former category that the current pieces fall.

Fu (or Foo/Fo) dogs are actually representations of lions that were first created by Chinese craftsmen/artists in the 3rd century BC, having heard about the tradition of using such items to protect temples in India. They gradually became associated with social elites, who had them carved in a range of expensive materials to guard their houses from ill fortune, as well as signalling the wealth and social status of the houses’ inhabitants. They were also believed to provide auspicious feng shui, particularly when placed in a male/female pair on either side of a front door with the female on the left and the male on the right. Their appearance is also influences by Asiatic (or Gir) lions, which were deemed to be a nobler guardian of imperial safety than dogs. Their name derives from one of the Chinese words for Buddha – Fo. As stated, these pieces are both male, which is unusual. However, the fact that there is a male and a female human figure is indicative, as is the imperial dragon on the male column (which is holding a pearl in its mouth) and the more feminine bird on the other side.

This magnificent pair is also significant for dating to the last period of indigenous (Han) Chinese rule before the invasion of M’ing China by the Manchu-led Q’ing Dynasty in 1644. This was an important status symbol for a high-ranking member of the social elite, and is also an outstanding work of art in its own right.

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