Ivory carving

Ivory carving

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Ivory carving is the carving of ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

, that is to say animal tooth or tusk
Tusk
Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth, usually but not always in pairs, that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canines, as with warthogs, wild boar, and walruses, or, in the case of elephants and narwhals, elongated incisors...

, by using sharp cutting tools, either mechanically or manually. The ancient craft has now virtually ceased, as since CITES it is illegal under most circumstances throughout the world.

Humans have ornamentally carved ivory since prehistoric times, and much of the prehistoric work reveals information about the use of tools during the carving's time period. The ivory figure of Khufu, for the builder of the Great Pyramid
Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact...

, is considered a masterpiece. Ivory carvings have been discovered in the tombs of ancient Chinese
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 rulers. Since the late Roman
Roman art
Roman art has the visual arts made in Ancient Rome, and in the territories of the Roman Empire. Major forms of Roman art are architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work...

 era ivory has been a prestigious medium for Christian art
Christian art
Christian art is sacred art produced in an attempt to illustrate, supplement and portray in tangible form the principles of Christianity, though other definitions are possible. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of...

.

The material


Ivory is by no means just obtained from elephant
Elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

s; any animal tooth or tusk used as a material for carving may be termed "ivory", though the species is usually added, and a great number of different species with tusks or large teeth have been used.
Teeth have three elements: the outer dental enamel, then the main body of dentine, and the inner root of osteo-dentine. For the purposes of carving the last two are in most animals both usable, but the harder enamel may be too hard to carve, and require removal by grinding first. This is the case with hippopotamus
Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

 for example, whose tooth enamel (on the largest teeth) is about as hard as jade
Jade
Jade is an ornamental stone.The term jade is applied to two different metamorphic rocks that are made up of different silicate minerals:...

. Elephant ivory, as well as coming in the largest pieces, is relatively soft and even, and an ideal material for carving. The species of animal from which ivory comes can usually be determined by examination under ultra-violet light, where different types show different colours.

Eurasian elephant ivory was usually obtained from the tusks of elephants in India, and in Roman times, from North Africa; from the 18th century sub-Saharan Africa became the main source. Ivory harvesting led to the extinction, or near-extinction of elephants in much of their former range. In early medieval Northern Europe, walrus
Walrus
The walrus is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous circumpolar distribution in the Arctic Ocean and sub-Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the Odobenidae family and Odobenus genus. It is subdivided into three subspecies: the Atlantic...

 ivory was traded
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

 south from as far away as Norse Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 to Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

, southern England and northern France and Germany. In Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 and Artic North America, mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

 tusks could be recovered from permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 and used; this became a large business in the 19th century, with convicts used for much of the labour. The 25,000 year-old Venus of Brassempouy
Venus of Brassempouy
The Venus of Brassempouy is a fragmentary ivory figurine from the Upper Palaeolithic. It was discovered in a cave at Brassempouy, France in 1892...

, arguably the earliest real likeness of a human face, was carved from mammoth ivory no doubt freshly killed. Sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

 teeth are another source, and bone carving
Bone carving
Bone carving is the act of creating art forms by carving into animal bones and often includes the carving of antlers and horns. It can result in the ornamentation of a bone, or the creation of a figure. It has been practiced by a variety of world cultures, sometimes as a cheaper substitute for...

 has been used in many cultures without access to ivory, and as a far cheaper alternative.

Europe



Chryselephantine sculptures are figures made of a mixture of ivory, usually for the flesh parts, and other materials, usually gilded
Gilding
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...

, for the clothed parts, and were used for many of the most important cult statues in Ancient Greece and other cultures. These included the huge Athena Parthenos
Athena Parthenos
Athena Parthenos was the title of a massive chryselephantine sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena made by Phidias and housed in the Parthenon in Athens. Its epithet was an essential character of the goddess herself...

, the statue of the Greek goddess
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

 Athena
Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

 made by Phidias
Phidias
Phidias or the great Pheidias , was a Greek sculptor, painter and architect, who lived in the 5th century BC, and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest of all sculptors of Classical Greece: Phidias' Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World...

 and the focus of the interior of the Parthenon
Parthenon
The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their virgin patron. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although...

 in Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. Ivory will survive very well if dry and not hot, but in most climates does not often long survive in the ground, so that our knowledge of Ancient Greek ivory is restricted, whereas a reasonable number of Late Roman pieces, mostly plaques from diptych
Diptych
A diptych di "two" + ptychē "fold") is any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge. Devices of this form were quite popular in the ancient world, wax tablets being coated with wax on inner faces, for recording notes and for measuring time and direction.In Late Antiquity, ivory diptychs with...

s, have survived above ground, typically ending up in church treasuries.

No doubt versions of figurines and other types of object that survive in ancient Roman pottery
Ancient Roman pottery
Pottery was produced in enormous quantities in ancient Rome, mostly for utilitarian purposes. It is found all over the former Roman Empire and beyond...

 and other media were also made in ivory, but survivals are very rare. A few Roman caskets with ivory plaques with relief
Relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

 carvings have survived, and such objects were copied in the Early Middle Ages - the Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

 in bone is an Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 version from the 8th century, and the Veroli Casket
Veroli casket
The Veroli Casket is an ivory and metal casket, made in Constantinople in the late tenth or early eleventh century, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is thought to have been made for a person close to the Imperial Court of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire,...

 a Byzantine one from about 1000. Both include mythological scenes, respectively Germanic and classical, that are found in few other works from these periods.

The most important Late Antique work of art made of ivory is the Throne of Maximianus. The cathedra of Maximianus
Maximianus of Ravenna
Maximianus of Ravenna, or Maximian was bishop of Ravenna.Born in the Istrian city of Pula , Maximianus was consecrated bishop of Ravenna in 546 by Pope Vigilius in Patras, Greece. Maximianus was a forty-eight year old deacon from Pola when he became the twenty-sixth bishop of Ravenna...

, bishop of Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

 (546-556), was covered entirely with ivory panels. It was probably carved in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 and shipped to Ravenna. It consists of decorative floral panels framing various figured panels, including one with the complex monogram of the bishop.

In the Early Christian period, Christians avoided monumental sculpture
Monumental sculpture
The term monumental sculpture is often used in art history and criticism, but not always consistently. It combines two concepts, one of function, and one of size, and may include an element of a third more subjective concept. It is often used for all sculptures that are large...

, which was associated with the old pagan Roman religion
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

, and sculpted almost exclusively in relief
Relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

. The difficult circumstances of the growing religion meant that these reliefs were normally small in scale - those on sarcophagi being the largest. The result was that when Christianity became first patronized by the emperors, and later the official religion of the Empire, these attitudes remained, and small-scale sculpture, for which ivory was in many ways the best material, was central to art in a way that it rarely was at other times. In the Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox world the disapproval of large religious sculpture was to remain unchanged to the present day, but in the West it was overcome, probably beginning with the court of Charlemagne, and as large monumental sculpture in other materials became more important, the centrality of ivory carving slowly lessened.

Late Roman Consular diptych
Consular diptych
In Late Antiquity a consular diptych was a particular type of diptych which could function as a writing tablet but was also intended as a deluxe commemorative object, commissioned by a consul ordinarius and then distributed to reward those who had supported his candidature as...

s were given as presents by the consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

s, civil officers who played an important administrative role until 541, and consisted of two panels carved on the outsides joined by hinges with the image of the consul. The form was later adopted for Christian use, with images of Christ, the Theotokos
Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

 and saints. They were used by an individual for prayer.

Such ivory panels were used as book-covers from the 6th century, usually as the centrepiece to a surround of metalwork and gems. sometimes assembled from up to five smaller panels because of the limited width of the tusk. This assembly suggested a compositional arrangement with Christ or Mary in the centre and angels, apostles and saints in the flanking panels. Carved ivory covers were used only for the most precious illuminated manuscript
Illuminated manuscript
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations...

s.

Typical Byzantine ivory works after the Iconoclastic period
Iconoclasm
Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually with religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes...

 were triptychs. Among the most remarkable examples is the Harbaville Triptych
Harbaville Triptych
The Harbaville Triptych is a Byzantine ivory triptych of the middle of the 10th century AD with a Deesis and other saints, now in the Louvre. Traces of colouring can still be seen on some figures...

 from the 10th century with many figurative panels. Such Byzantine triptychs could only have been used for private devotion because of their relatively small size. Another famous 10th century ivory triptych is the Borradaile Triptych in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

, with only one central image (the Crucifixion). The Romanos Ivory is similar to the religious triptychs but its central panel shows Christ crowning Emperor Romanos and Empress Eudokia. There are different theories about which Byzantine ruler was made for the triptych. One possible solution is Romanos II
Romanos II
Romanos  II was a Byzantine emperor. He succeeded his father Constantine VII in 959 at the age of twenty-one, and died suddenly in 963.-Life:...

 that gives the date of production between 944 and 949. It seems that ivory carving declined or largely disappeared in Byzantium after the 12th century.

Western Europe also made polytychs, which by the Gothic period typically had side panels with tiers of relief narrative scenes, rather than the rows of saints favoured in Byzantine works. These were usually of the Life of the Virgin
Life of the Virgin
The Life of the Virgin, showing narrative scenes from the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a common subject for pictorial cycles in Christian art, often complementing, or forming part of, a cycle on the Life of Christ. In both cases the number of scenes shown varies greatly with the space...

or Life of Christ
Life of Christ
The Life of Christ as a narrative cycle in Christian art comprises a number of different subjects, which were often grouped in series or cycles of works in a variety of media, narrating the life of Jesus on earth, as distinguished from the many other subjects in art showing the eternal life of...

. If it was a triptych the main panel usually still featured a hieratic scene on a larger scale but diptychs just with narrative scenes were common. Western art did not share Byzantine inhibitions about sculpture in the round: reliefs became increasing high and small statues were common, representing much of the best work. Chess and gaming pieces were often large and elaborately carved; the Lewis Chessmen
Lewis chessmen
The Lewis Chessmen are a group of 78 12th-century chess pieces, most of which are carved in walrus ivory...

 are among the best known.
Olifants
Olifant (instrument)
Olifant was the name applied in the Middle Ages to ivory hunting horns made from elephants' tusks. One of the most famous olifants belonged to the legendary Frankish knight Roland, protagonist of The Song of Roland.In The Song of Roland, Roland carries his olifant while serving on the rearguard of...

 were horns made from the end of an elephant's tusk, usually carved over at least part of their surface. They were perhaps more for display than use in hunting.

Most medieval ivories were gilded and coloured, sometimes all over and sometimes just in parts of the design, but usually only scant traces survive of their surface colouring; many were scrubbed by 19th century dealers. A fair number of Gothic ivories survive with original colour in good condition however. The survival rate for ivory panels has always been relatively high compared to equivalent luxury media like precious metal because a thin ivory panel cannot be re-used, although some have been turned over and carved again on the reverse. The majority of book-cover plaques are now detached from their original books and metalwork surrounds, very often because the latter has been stripped off for breaking up at some point. Equally they are more robust than small paintings. Ivory works have always been valued, and because of their survival rate and portability were very important in the transmission of artistic style, especially in Carolingian art
Carolingian art
Carolingian art comes from the Frankish Empire in the period of roughly 120 years from about AD 780 to 900 — during the reign of Charlemagne and his immediate heirs — popularly known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The art was produced by and for the court circle and a group of...

, which copied and varied many Late Antique ivories.

Ivory became increasingly available as the Middle Ages went on, and the most important centre of carving became Paris, which had a virtually industrial production and exported all over Europe. Secular pieces, or religious ones for lay-people, gradually took over from production for the clergy. Mirror-cases, gaming pieces, boxes and combs were among typical products, as well as small personal religious diptychs and triptychs. Ivory was never so important after the end of the Middle Ages, but continued to be used for plaques, small figures, especially the "corpus" or body on a crucifix
Crucifix
A crucifix is an independent image of Jesus on the cross with a representation of Jesus' body, referred to in English as the corpus , as distinct from a cross with no body....

, fans, elaborate handles for cutlery, and a great range of other objects. Dieppe
Dieppe, Seine-Maritime
Dieppe is a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in France. In 1999, the population of the whole Dieppe urban area was 81,419.A port on the English Channel, famous for its scallops, and with a regular ferry service from the Gare Maritime to Newhaven in England, Dieppe also has a popular pebbled...

 in France became an important centre, specializing in ornate openwork and model ships, and Erbach
Erbach, Rhineland-Palatinate
Erbach is an Ortsgemeinde – a municipality belonging to a Verbandsgemeinde, a kind of collective municipality – in the Rhein-Hunsrück-Kreis in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It belongs to the Verbandsgemeinde of Rheinböllen, whose seat is in the like-named town.-Location:The municipality lies in...

 in Germany. Kholmogory
Kholmogory
Kholmogory is a historic village and the administrative center of Kholmogorsky District of Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. It lies on the left bank of the Northern Dvina, along the Kholmogory Highway, 75 km southeast of Arkhangelsk and 90 km north of the Antonievo-Siysky Monastery. The name...

 has been for centuries a centre for the Russian style of carving, once in mammoth ivory but now mostly in bone. Scrimshaw
Scrimshaw
Scrimshaw is the name given to handiwork created by whalers made from the byproducts of harvesting marine mammals. It is most commonly made out of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, the baleen of other whales, and the tusks of walruses...

, usually a form of engraving
Engraving
Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing...

 rather than carving, is a type of mostly naïve art
Naïve art
Naïve art is a classification of art that is often characterized by a childlike simplicity in its subject matter and technique. While many naïve artists appear, from their works, to have little or no formal art training, this is often not true...

 practised by whalers and sailors on sperm whale teech and other marine ivory, mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Islamic ivory



Ivory is a very suitable material for the intricate geometrical patterns of Islamic art
Islamic art
Islamic art encompasses the visual arts produced from the 7th century onwards by people who lived within the territory that was inhabited by or ruled by culturally Islamic populations...

, and has been much used for boxes, inlays in wood and other purposes. For the first thousand years of Islam the Islamic world was more prosperous than the West, and had much easier access to ivory from both India and Africa, so Islamic use of the material is noticeably more generous than European, with many fairly large caskets, round boxes that use a full section of tusk (left), and other pieces. Openwork, where a panel of ivory is cut right through for parts of the design is very common, as it is in Islamic woodwork. Like many aspects of Islamic ivory this reflects the Byzantine traditions Islam inherited. Islamic aniconism was often less strictly enforced in small decorative works, and many Islamic ivories have delightful figures of animals, and human figures, especially hunters.

India


India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 was a major centre for Ivory carving since ancient times. Murshidabad
Murshidabad
Murshidabad is a city in Murshidabad district of West Bengal state in India. The city of Murshidabad is located on the southern bank of the Bhagirathi, a distributary of the Ganges River. It was the capital of undivided Bengal during the Mughal rule. Nawabs of Bengal used to rule Bengal from this...

 in State of West Bengal
West Bengal
West Bengal is a state in the eastern region of India and is the nation's fourth-most populous. It is also the seventh-most populous sub-national entity in the world, with over 91 million inhabitants. A major agricultural producer, West Bengal is the sixth-largest contributor to India's GDP...

, India was a famed centre for ivory carving. A set of ivory table and chairs, displayed at Victoria Memorial
Victoria Memorial (India)
The Victoria Memorial, officially the Victoria Memorial Hall, is a memorial building dedicated to Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, which is located in Kolkata, India – the capital of West Bengal and a former capital of British India. It currently serves as a museum and a...

, Kolkata
Kolkata
Kolkata , formerly known as Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, it was the commercial capital of East India...

 is an exquisite example of carving done by Murshidabad Carvers. This chair is a five legged arm chair, where three legs culminate into Tiger's claw while remaining two culminate into open mouthed tiger's head. The table as well as chair has excellent perforated floral motif (jaali work) with traces of gold plating. This table and chair was presented to the museum by Maharaja of Darbhanga. The carvers of Murshidabad called solid end of the elephant tusk as Nakshidant , middle portion as Khondidant and thick hollow end as Galhardant. They preferred using the solid end of elephant tusk for their work.

Ivory carving was also prevalent in South India, especially in Mysore and Tamil Nadu, and also in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

East Asia



Ivory was not a prestigious material in the rather strict hierarchy of Chinese art
Chinese art
Chinese art is visual art that, whether ancient or modern, originated in or is practiced in China or by Chinese artists or performers. Early so-called "stone age art" dates back to 10,000 BC, mostly consisting of simple pottery and sculptures. This early period was followed by a series of art...

, where jade
Jade
Jade is an ornamental stone.The term jade is applied to two different metamorphic rocks that are made up of different silicate minerals:...

 has always been far more highly regarded, and rhinoceros horn, which is not ivory, had a special auspicious position. But ivory, as well as bone, has been used for various items since early times, when China still had its own species of elephant
Chinese elephant
The Chinese Elephant or the Pink-tusked Elephant is an extinct subspecies of Asian Elephants that once lived in Central and Southern China before the 14th century BC...

 — demand for ivory seems to have played a large part in their extinction, which came before 100 BC. From the Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 ivory began to be used for small statuettes of the gods and others (see gallery). In the Ching Dynasty it suited the growing taste for intricate carving, and became more prominent, being used for brush-holders, boxes, handles and similar pieces, and later Canton
Guangzhou
Guangzhou , known historically as Canton or Kwangchow, is the capital and largest city of the Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China. Located in southern China on the Pearl River, about north-northwest of Hong Kong, Guangzhou is a key national transportation hub and trading port...

 developed large models of houses and other large and showy pieces, which remain popular. Enormous examples are still seen as decorative centrepieces at government receptions. Figures were typically uncoloured, or just with certain features coloured in ink, often just black, but sometimes a few other colours.

By the 18th century China had a considerable market in items such as figures made for export to Europe, and from the Meiji Period
Meiji period
The , also known as the Meiji era, is a Japanese era which extended from September 1868 through July 1912. This period represents the first half of the Empire of Japan.- Meiji Restoration and the emperor :...

 Japan followed. Japanese ivory for the domestic market had traditionally mostly been small objects such as netsuke
Netsuke
Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical function...

, for which ivory was used from the 17th century, or little inlays for sword-fittings and the like, but in the later 19th century, using African ivory, pieces became as large as the material would allow, and carved with virtuosic skill. A speciality was round puzzle balls of openwork that contained a series of smaller balls, freely rotating, inside them, a tribute to the patience of Asian craftsmen. See the gallery for a modern Chinese example with 54 independent spheres.

External links