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CELESTIAL BOAT

CHINESE MECHANICAL TOY

As early as the 3rd century B.C. Qin Shi-huang, establisher of the Chinese Empire, attending to endless longevity was time after time sending expeditions to the distant seas looking for the islands haunted with the celestial immortals: people - rulers of the time, elements and wonderful creatures, - in pleasure of eternity sailing the seas by unseen boats resistant to any storms. By celestial boats.

It is hard to say – since who has seen them? - whether the boats were like toys, models and miniatures emerging from Chinese master’s hands, in particular this toy — mechanical boat presenting a model of traditional pleasure craft, by which a noble Chinese man was travelling in the company of servants, musicians and dancers. The ship hull is made of wood and covered with ivory and tin. Figurines of musicians and dancers are also made of ivory, and the figurine of a patron deity - of amber. The inside of the ship hull hides a device, similar to clockwork, wound up with a key. The device drives the wheels in the bottom of the ship and moves the ship along with the figurines of musicians and dancers.

Due to serious damages it has not been succeeded to restore this unique device in full and reconstruct the mechanics in its original form - as a matter of fact this mechanical toy  was procured in Beijing in 1719—1720 while visited by Russian embassy headed by Envoy Extraordinary L.V. Izmaylov, in the other words over two hundred and eighty years ago. It was that time when at the court of Manchu Emperor Kangxi a clockmaker was open where Chinese handymen governed and supervised by European Jesuit missionaries first commenced production of the similar mechanical toys. After Kangxi died in 1722, the clockmaker ceased to exist: the following rulers of China were unconcerned with European techniques.

Destiny of the boat was anything but simple: it is not known exactly whether such toys were presented to the embassy of L.V. Izmaylov or were procured owing to Russian embassy’s secretary Lorentz Lang’s contacts with European missionaries. The further history of this artifact has been enveloped in mystery, since until quite recently it had been considered that neither collections of Peter the Great’s time have remained after the fire of 1747 in the Kunstkamera — and now after long several-decade research work a unique artifact of Peter the Great’s time was discovered, rear both for Russian and foreign collections.

The Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) within the Russian Academy of Sciences accords gratitude to the experts of the State Hermitage rendering invaluable assistance in attribution and restoration of the displayed artifact.

  
     
   
     
   
     

Video "CELESTIAL BOAT"