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HOME : Chinese Art : Ming Dynasty : Set of Six Ming Glazed Terracotta Figures and a Horse and Rider
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Set of Six Ming Glazed Terracotta Figures and a Horse and Rider - H.003
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 13.5" (34.3cm) high x 3.75" (9.5cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Glazed Terracotta


Location: United States
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Description
Upon leading a victorious rebellion against the foreign Mongul rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, a peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang seized control of China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. As emperor, he founded his capital at Nanjing and adopted the name Hongwu as his reign title. Hongwu, literally meaning “vast military,” reflects the increased prestige of the army during the Ming Dynasty. Due to the very realistic threat still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu realized that a strong military was essential to Chinese prosperity. Thus, the orthodox Confucian view that the military was an inferior class to be ruled over by an elite class of scholars was reconsidered. During the Ming Dynasty, China proper was reunited after centuries of foreign incursion and occupation. Ming troops controlled Manchuria, and the Korean Joseon Dynasty respected the authority of the Ming rulers, at least nominally.

Like the founders of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.), Hongwu was extremely suspicious of the educated courtiers that advised him and, fearful that they might attempt to overthrow him, he successfully consolidated control of all aspect of government. The strict authoritarian control Hongwu wielded over the affairs of the country was due in part to the centralized system of government he inherited from the Monguls and largely kept intact. However, Hongwu replaced the Mongul bureaucrats who had ruled the country for nearly a century with native Chinese administrators. He also reinstituted the Confucian examination system that tested would-be civic officials on their knowledge of literature and philosophy. Unlike the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which received most of its taxes from mercantile commerce, the Ming economy was based primarily on agriculture, reflecting both the peasant roots of its founder as well as the Confucian belief that trade was ignoble and parasitic.

Culturally, the greatest innovation of the Ming Dynasty was the introduction of the novel. Developed from the folk tales of traditional storytellers, these works were transcribed in the everyday vernacular language of the people. Advances in printmaking and the increasing population of urban dwellers largely contributed to the success of these books. Architecturally, the most famous monument of the Ming Dynasty is surely the complex of temples and palaces known as the Forbidden City that was constructed in Beijing after the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle, moved the capital there. Today, the Forbidded Palace remains one of the hallmarks of traditional Chinese architecture and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the vast nation.

This group of lead-glazed statuettes is both unique and comical, perhaps depicting a band of travelling entertainers, hermit scholars, or strange mystical servants. Although the exact occupation of these figures is evasive, their farcical features and captivating expressions reveal the artist's skill at creating figures that come to life and delight audiences. Consisting of six standing figures and one seated on horseback, this odd grouping seems to be partaking in a procession. The six standing figures wear emerald green flowing robes with wide sleeves and an amber colored belt with an ornate buckle. The robe reveals their white collars and black boots, and on some figures, a fin-shaped pad seemingly part of the robe is fitted on one shoulder. Perhaps, it served as a prop rest for a shaft or banner pole given that those fitted with it have one armed raised and hand clenched as if shouldering a long slender object. Another figure, with extremely different facial features from the others, stands in a bold stance revealing his clenched fist and bare arm. Behind these men, another men carries a wooden rack on his back. The man on horseback assumes an erect posture, right arm folded in front of his button down jacket. Not only is his clothing significantly different, but his short, incised pointed cap contrasts with the tall conical black caps worn by the men on foot. His horse is short and stocky, but adorned with once colorful trappings that bespeak of its important service to man. Ming statuette art reflects the attempt to restore purely 'Chinese' artistic genres with a healthy injection of Confucian aesthetic, political, and moral standards. Realistic depictions of daily life became popular themes among artists who were often patronized by the court. Under Xuande's reign (1426-35), the art industry flourished, producing many exquisite porcelain and ceramic pieces. This glazed set is a product of the Ming artistic revival and the imagination of artists who prospered as a result. - (H.003)

 

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