Diam. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm)
Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1993 (1993.176)
Ivory carving, which, like jade, was found in some of China's earliest cultures, flourished during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1644–1911) due to an increased supply of the material and to widespread patronage of the decorative arts. Although its function remains unclear, this medallion is one of the relatively few examples of ivory carving that can be dated with any certainty to the Ming period.
The richly carved scene of a scholar gentleman riding in a moonlight landscape shows parallels to similar painted scenes, which helps date this medallion to the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. Four young attendants carrying supplies accompany the traveling scholar, while a fifth hastens to open the gateway to a family compound. Such scenes, often found in the work of court and professional painters, are understood to represent a return from a spring outing filled with wine and poetry. The blending of various flowers (lotus and peony) and auspicious emblems (jade chime and pen) on the back of the medallion also point to a date in the late Ming period.