Medallion with Return from a Spring Outing

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: late 16th–early 17th century

Culture: China

Medium: Ivory

Dimensions: H. 1 1/4 in. (3.2 cm); Diam. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1993

Accession Number: 1993.176


This ivory medallion, of unknown function, is carved on one side in high relief with a scene of the return by moonlight of a party from a "spring outing." Every detail of the scene corresponds to its standard treatment in genre paintings of the Ming period, such as those by Dai Jin (1388–1462) and Qiu Ying (1495–1552), in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. On the reverse is a low-relief pattern composed around the character wan, surrounded by four cloud collars and in turn surrounded by four "secularized" emblems of Buddhist and Daoist origin. Interspersed among the emblems are lotus, peony, aster, and hibiscus blossoms. There are traces of gilding on a red-lacquer base. The center of the back is penetrated by an iron pin that has been cut to the level of the surface of the ivory. There is a drilled hole on the edge, which is carved with a diaper pattern.

Relatively few ivory carvings can be dated with any certainty to the Ming dynasty. The landscape scene on this piece, which is a standard subject in Ming professional paintings, provides an excellent clue as to the period of the carving. The generalized emblems are also indicative of a late Ming date.