The Jade Emperor: Identifying a Chinese Ceramic Sculpture
Art and Visual Culture
A ceramic sculpture in the collection of the Brunnier Museum at Iowa State University depicts a bearded male figure sitting in front of a flaming mandorla, a background used to frame and imbue a transcendent quality to spiritual figures. The piece is covered with green and orange glaze. Tradition Chinese calligraphy runs down the center of the mandorla. The sculpture is simply titled Figurine and Throne by the Museum and attributed to the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E.). My research has identified the figure as the Jade Emperor, and thanks to interpretations of the calligraphy by Dr. Li Tonglu and Dr. Stephen Eskildsen we can date it to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The Jade Emperor is an important Taoist Deity who is the supreme ruler over heaven and earth. He is often depicted, like the ceramic figure, wearing a ceremonial cap called mien with hanging jade beads. His cult was especially encouraged during the Ming Dynasty, a fact which supports the re-dating of the piece to that period.