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Article updated: 1/14/2013 5:33 PM

Sennin Kinko statue is a curiosity, not a work of art

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Q. The enclosed photos were taken of an item removed from a castle in Germany during World War II. There are no markings or dates and the antiques dealers in our area could offer no information except they believe it is old jade and of Chinese origin. Can you provide any information, and is there a market for it?

A. Let us deal with what we believe this is supposed to represent before we discuss the material from which this piece of sculpture was made.

We believe this is probably a representation of the Daoist sage Kinko -- also known as Sennin in Japanese or Sennin Kinko. The Chinese legend holds that Kinko was an artist whose specialty was painting fish, and he would neither kill nor eat his aquatic friends.

To reward his virtue, the "Dragon King" invited Kinko to visit him in his palace in the sea world and sent forth a giant carp to carry him across the water. On his way back, Sennin Kinko (a "Sennin," is a person who has realized the way of Dao, and can live to be a thousand years old while retaining the appearance of a youth or child) encounters Kannon, the god or goddess of mercy and gives him/her a scroll that illustrates the Buddhist principle of protecting the lives of all living creatures.

This is said to demonstrate the merits of Kinko as he reaches the divine.

In the sculpture in today's question we see Kinko riding the carp among the waves and there may be another figure that represents Kannon -- or we may only be imagining the second figure because of the poor quality of the photos.

The quality of the photos is such that if you had not told us the piece was stone, we would have been sure it was carved from Chinese rosewood (huanghuali). The reddish brown color suggest to us, however, that this piece may really be a piece of carved agate and not jade.

Jade is really two different minerals. One is called "jadeite," which is about as hard as quartz and can be found in a variety of colors including lavender, pink and emerald green; and the other is called "nephrite," which is a tad softer than quartz and is found in shades of either white or green.

Agate is a microcrystalline variety of silica that comes in a variety of different types and colors. A piece of jade this size (approximately one foot long) would be very unusual and the color and striations we see in the photo looks more like agate than jade; but to be sure which of these substances it is, you will have to have it tested by a gemologist or mineralogist.

The real problem we have is that the quality of the work does not seem to be all that phenomenal. The piece is certainly very attractive, but we think it is what we would call "tourist" quality -- meaning that it was never intended to be an art object, but was a souvenir of a trip to the Orient or imported into Germany for decorative purposes.

Let us say that whether this piece is jade or agate (and we lean heavily toward agate), there is a market for this item. If it is agate we think this piece from the first quarter of the 20th century would sell at auction for between $800 and $1,200 (or perhaps a bit more) and should be insured for twice that amount.

Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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