Carved tusk on stand, ivory / wood, maker unknown, China, date unknown
Ivory teeth are formed of an enamel crown laid over the body of the tooth which is made up of dentine. The formation of some teeth is exceptionally specialised and in the case of the walrus and the elephant grow so big they are referred to as tusks. These are composed almost entirely of dentine capped with enamel.
Ivory has been highly prized as a raw material in many cultures and in China the art of carving, engraving and weaving ivory reached some of its highest levels in their sculptural forms. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) ivory carving developed rapidly in Fuzhou and Zhangzhou because it was here that ivory was brought into China.
In the early Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911) they lost their predominance when Guangzhou became the only port allowed to carry out foreign trade and became the centre for Chinese ivory carving. The reign of the Ch'ien-lung Emperor (1736-1795 AD) was a period in which the arts flourished in China as the Emperor Ch'ien-lung collected traditional crafts, such as carved bamboo, ivory and bone in addition to fine arts, such as books and paintings. Western Baroque style had some influence in this period and is reflected in the use of shading and modelling as well as the incorporation of motifs such as realistic floral sprays.
Imperial ivory reached its heights under Ch'ien-lung and much of the extant ivory from this period is from workshops in Guangdong. There were three main methods used in making ivory works; carving, incising and weaving. By the late Ch'ing period traditional works made from ivory declined, particularly after the Opium wars of the 1840s. Foreign incursions were followed in later years by peasant uprisings which led to the democratic revolution led by SunYat-se in 1911. The ivory works produced in this later part of the Ch'ing dynasty became much more elaborate and focussed on pure technique.
This brush holder is carved from an elephant tusk and was probably made during this later period. It has what appears to be a 'Red Cliff boating scene' incised on the front with a small square of miniature text on the upper right. The back is covered in miniature characters.
Phillips, P., (ed), 'Ivory: an International History and Illustrated Survey', Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York, 1987
MacGregor, A., 'Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn: the technology of skeletal materials since the Roman period', Barnes and Noble Books, New Jersey, 1985.
Kwan, S., 'Chinese Ivories from the Kwan Collection', the Art Gallery,the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1990
Yu-chang, W., 'Masterpieces of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Republic of China', National Palace Museum, Taipei, China, 1971
Geoff Barker, March, 2007