1690 Chinese

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A rare Chinese famille verte brushpot or bitong of everted ‘mortar’ shape brightly enamelled with a tiger and a dragon.

The unusual shape is reminiscent of an eighteenth century brass apothecary’s mortar and the decoration, including a tiger, is also rare. In Daoist symbolism tigers represent yin and the dragon is yang, (the tiger is 'earth' and the dragon 'spirit') the two forces combining to control the qi or energy of all things. The tiger represents the West and the dragon the East.

The tiger is also a symbol of the military on account of its strength and ferocity and, in Chinese art, the tiger is often shown being hunted. He is the king of beasts and rules for a thousand years, turning white after five hundred.

Yang Xiang, one of the twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety, threw himself in front of a tiger about to pounce on his father. Yang was consumed. In the Kangxi period it was believed that if you were killed by a tiger then your soul was enslaved to the beast unless an unfortunate substitute could be found.

Many fanciful stories were written about them: in the Tang period Duan Chengzi (d. 863) described the ability of certain tigers to force a corpse to rise to its feet and undress itself before being consumed. In Chinese art Duan is sometimes depicted leaning against a tiger, half asleep.

In 1900 the tiger, Panthera tigris (Linnaeus 1758), had eight described subspecies and a total population of about 100,000. Their range has now decline by 93% and three of those subspecies are extinct (Bali c1940s, , Javan c1980s, Caspian c1970s) and the total population is between 3,500 and 4,500. Of the remaining six subspecies (the Malay Tiger, P.t. jacksoni, was described in 2004), four cling on in China in tiny populations: the South China tiger numbers less than 70 in captivity and is extinct in the wild; the Siberian, less than 400 with 30 in China; the Indo-Chinese, less than 400 with a few in China; the Indian or Bengal Tiger, less than 2,000 with 30 in China. And yet they are still hunted, at a rate of one per day, for body parts for traditional medicines - a wild tiger corpse in China can be worth as much as $50,000 today.
Ex-collection Luis Esteves Fernandes (1897-1988)
Height 6.00 inch (15.24 cm)
Stock Code
Cohen & Cohen

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