Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Polestar Deity Kui Xing

Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
16th–17th century
Leaded tin brass; lost-wax cast
H. 9 1/2 in. (24 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1998
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Pole Star, a popular religious figure associated with the Lord of Literature (Wen Chang Dijun), was the tutelary spirit presiding over the civil-service examinations. Depicted as a demonic figure (the name of the star is a homophone for the word for "eminent," which is composed of the ideograph for "demon" and the ideograph for "dipper"), the Pole Star had a cult that became particularly important in Ming times, when the number of examination candidates competing for the limited number of available official appointments made divine help all the more welcome.

This dynamic figure shows the god in the act of adding the final dot to the Big Dipper constellation over which he presides. The deity, his robes swept backward by a cosmic wind, balanced on one foot (now missing) while holding aloft a brush (also missing). In his left hand he grasps an ingot of gold or silver, symbolic of the emoluments forth-coming from examination success.
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