Tray with Daoist Figures

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: 16th century

Culture: China

Medium: Black lacquer with mother-of-pearl inlay; basketry sides

Dimensions: H. 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm); W. 18 3/8 (46.7 cm); D. 11 5/8 (29.5)

Classification: Lacquer

Credit Line: Purchase, Barbara and William Karatz Gift, 2006

Accession Number: 2006.238


The eight figures, male and female, assembled on a riverbank represent figures important to the Chinese tradition of Daoism. Some are members of a group of exemplars, known as the Eight Immortals, who became popular during the development of the Quanzhen (Complete Realization) sect of Daoism during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. These luminaries are based loosely on historical figures of the Tang dynasty (618–906). Here, they await the arrival of Shoulao, a principal figure in the Daoist pantheon and a symbol of immortality. He is shown to the left flying above the waves on the back of a crane. Daoist imagery was particularly important in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, not only at court but within all levels of society.